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Architecture and the Culture of Hip Hop

 

        The culture of Hip Hop/Rap has been emerging in cities of America for almost four decades. Hip Hop enthusiast would claim it was birthed by Kevin Donovan or better known as the Dj Africa Bombaata, which through time and space has had its interesting evolution. A bit of history tells us Bombaata, son of two African Americans, grew up in the projects of the South Bronx during times of activism. Just like many other teenage kids, Bombaata was born in what has been categorized as the "ghetto", and through time grew apart of the gang known as the Spades who fought for their rights against issues of racism and mistreatment which was predominant at the time. During a trip to Africa, Bombaata was inspired by the history of the Zulu's and came back with a strong ambition of using the music of hip hop to remove African-Americans from helpless gang activities. He created hip hop parties and tours to expand this notion of peace through his music across the nation. Although many rappers and historians of Hip Hop assure Bombaata as the grandfather of the culture, architects and planners can articulate the culture to have derived from the philosophies and designs of conjestion, indefinately: indications of bad urban planning. Eminent domain took a very impulsive influence on the arrival of public housing. For example, in the South Bronx, the urban planner Robert Moses was looking to build a six lane highway, formerly known as the Cross Bronx, which took over the neighborhoods of African Americans and immigrants while enforcing residential displacement for the minority community. The results were the neighborhoods of the ”ghetto” and the infamous housing projects which have fathered the culture of Hip Hop.

            One of the main theories of residents of urban cities and believers of hip hop culture is that they are a product of their environment, an environment that was abandoned and overlooked by its city officials. In these housing projects live families who may be facing financial hardships and immigrant families with no education, and as a result a neighborhoods affected by distress and need. Characteristics that are easily manipulated by crime and violence. A culture with a sense of regression was within these neighborhood residents and that is what empowered the hip hop culture. Hip-Hop became a gateway for people who did not take what they had to their disposal for granted nor did they let it limit their potential. If you were going to make it out of the South Bronx in the 70's or 80's you had to be brilliant or an athlete of high caliber. Selling and making music in your friend's basement with instruments and tools left from the jazz age, even inspired by the culture of jazz and cannabis, was the ticket to the American dream for many residents of this struggling environment. Jay Z has been one of many predominant figures in the success of the hip hop culture, in his album entitled the Blueprint, he exposes the failures of urban planning and their results by introducing to the audience to his lifestyle of living due to his environment. "I was raised in the projects, roaches and rats, smokers out back selling their momma's sofas, lookouts on the corner focused on the ave., ladies in the window focused on the kinfolk, me under a lamp post.."

              Interestingly, we take into account Jay Z's success in the culture of hip hop and his struggle growing up in Marcy Projects of Brooklyn. Of coarse Jay is not the only success story, others like Nas whom not only have used music and rap to tell a story but have created a culture that has provided a new platform of opportunities. Neverthless, we as architects and designers can pay more attention to the struggling minority neighborhoods. How can we inspire the youth growing out of these unfortunate events of planning while understanding them and creating better healthy cities? For example, Chicago is one of the most violent cities in America today, in where most of their crimes are coming from the minority community in distressed environments, leaving us with the obvious issues of urban planning and designing cities. Doctor Craig Wilkins from the University of Michigan has been devoted to finding a correlation between hip hop and architecture to help improve these distressed neighborhoods as well as to develop a stronger minority community in the architectural and design profession. He refers to a quote by songwriter Elvis Castello, "writing about music is like dancing about architecture" when explaining his notion in that "in the midst of dance, human presence defines architecture and not the other way around". Essentially, Wilkins is a strong believer in that human activity can define the successes or failures of architecture  and not the other way around. I am one to disagree with placemaking like that of centralized public housing for low income families because I believe one cannot categorize a group of people and expect progressive diversity. I believe in the interrelationship of social classes and economics that can stimulate influence to those in need. Moreover, we must begin designing environments that are stimulated by human activity and influenced by human interest. Some what of an idea that can be recalled to Corbusier's - the house as the machine - or Cedric Price's - Fun Palace.

              In today's society, Hip Hop has become a greatly praised culture in dense urban cities. Through time, designers and philosophers have developed hypothesis and theoretical solutions for the issues of urban city neighborhoods wrapped in poverty and crime, to inspire and promote better quality lifestyles. There have been studies of space regarding color, material, nature, temperature and climate. Moreover, the effects they may have on one's quality of living or influence on the built environment. For these reasons, ideas of roof gardens, art murals, greenways and sustainability have come about and are neccessary. In fact, there may be a correlation between what is green design and what is hip hop culture, since the music of hip hop is very intuitive to a way of living and a cultural process. I think Green design is somewhat of a study and accountability of a daily process and its effects on daily living. In many ways, urban environments need soothing tranquility that can inspire and motivate a progressive lifestyle. ConceptualIy, the processes of music and its production is a lot similar to that of the construction of architecture. Sampling of beats and how they sound with the vocals and the impressions made to the listener can be recalled to the architectural processes of sampling materials and program and how they influence environments. On a common ground, it is imperative for both professions to understand the kind of impression they  are leaving upon their society and environments - to understand how built environments through architecture can provide a better living culture and vice versa. Wilkins, believes ideas of collaboration in the jazz age can be used today in architectural studios, in a purpose of coming together for the culture of Hip Hop. Today, architecture and design students are constructively criticized based on their individual work, not taking into account the psyche the student has as a result of their background which can be overtly different from everyone else in the room. The idea that students can come together to share their ideas can be beneficial to their weaknesses and strengths to produce overall quality of work. In essence, this kind of collaboration extends to the professional fields, inspiring and allowing for different creative minds and professions to configure the solutions of urban environments.

              I had taken notice of a specific project that was given the term as Hip Hop Architecture, known as The HIVE apartment in Melbourne, Australia, by the designer Zvi Belling of ITN architects. The term Hip Hop Architecture was interesting to me, when I first thought about it I could not really interpret what could brand an architectural design to Hip Hop. Lets consider the Baroque age and the Renaissance which are times of architectural details and aesthetics that emphasized opulence and a high interest in art. To me the HIVE apartment is a bold project promoting graffiti. There has always been this strange stigma of graffiti and street art with Hip Hop Culture, which to me, being a great fan of Hip Hop, is not neccessarily credible. I personally believe this is not what today's Hip-Hop represents. Hip Hop has become a culture that through time has financially excelled, perhaps this apartment is still in the Run DMC age where B-Boying and Breakdancing was a major thing. Belling, who is claimed to be a supporter of street art and hip hop culture had the opportunity of studying the possible design influences on the inhabitant and the built environment in residential neighborhoods, with the construction of his own home. The project was inexpensive and very efficient using off the shelf and sustainable materials. The design of this apartment is based on the idea of public street art and the comfort found in music. The walls of the apartment are pre-cast concrete which allow the hip hop iconography on the exterior façades, consisting of graffiti style letters, spray paint drips and arrows. Belling wanted to create a spectacle and a special transition from the interior to exterior, recalling the idea of the influence of hip hop onto the streets but also maintaining the idea that the music of hip hop is inspired by the soul and its surrounding environment. The soul of this project is in the interior, where the comfort of modern style is found with its ledging walls, ornamental language and unusual door sizes allowing a change of air flow and climate change in different rooms. We can recall notions of Peter Zumthore's Therme Vals for its influence on human comfort and senses. On the other hand, the exterior with the graffiti signage of 'HIVE' plays as a public art display celebrating urban streets. A very impulsive move by Belling as he could have been criticized for what is a tacky implementation of hip hop but can be seen as smart and innovative when recalling projects like the 2x4x6x8 house by Thom Mayne of Morphosis, who used cheap colorful exterior elements to study the exterior façade, or the Chiat Day Building by Frank Gehry who used sculptural art and expressionism to make a statement about architecture.

               This arrival of hip hop architecture is an interesting discussion to take into account when we are looking for inspiration for designs in urban cities or distressed neighborhoods. Perhaps, this building is a prime example of what not to do, or maybe its intriguing to some. The process of hip hop architecture can be impactful in sustainability and quality of living. Pharell Williams, who is a hip hop artist and music producer collaborated with the architect Chad Oppenheim for his recreational center in his hometown, stating, “I believe the architecture of a building says a lot about its soul and I wanted a building for the center that makes a statement to the world and the kids – something that will stand as a monument of optimism... We want the building to look like something out of the future, so it will inspire the kids to aspire to greater things.” Other iconic hip hop figures like Kanye West of Chicago, who is also interested in the design industry, is trying to organize and fund a creative agency known as DONDA. Kanye West tweeted, “I am assembling a team of architects, graphic designers, directors, musicians, producers... We can collectively effect the world through design". It would be interesting to see how the influence of hip hop in design and architecture plays out but there is no doubt that there is a correlation. Ice Cube, a political rapper from LA, praised the honorable case study Eames House, claiming they were doing hip hop architecture years ago. Cube explains how hip hop reflects the design of the home as both make a use of prefabricated peices that fit together to form a whole, he says "What I love about the Eames, is how resourceful they are,” recalling the hip hop notion of you using what you have to overcome your struggles, which what is very sustainable.