Cover Image: Hip-Hop Architecture

Hip-Hop Architecture

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Member Reviews

“Hip-Hop Architecture’s ability to shift power and control within the architectural realm from white-haired, White men, in black suits and block horn-rimmed glasses to colorful, young, ungendered masses, makes it potentially more democratic and progressive than any preceding architectural movement. ”

Although it might sound cynical or pessimistic, it is an unquestionable fact that racial prejudices have seeped into every aspect of our lives through centuries of power imbalance and abuses. Both by giving a voice and expression to those affected by this imbalance, and by creating a dynamic and powerful medium in the contemporary culture open to appropriation, hip-hop has influenced almost all art forms, from fashion to dance, music, and literature. And of course, architecture.

If architecture is the art of creating spaces to be occupied, hip-hop can be seen as the art of occupying space. Through its fours branches (DJing, rapping, breakdance, and graffiti), hip-hop lends itself to architecture in a powerful, vibrant, and thoughtful way.

Despite it being a topic I know almost nothing about, Cooke’s incredibly well-researched and communicated guide into the world of Hip-hop Architecture was a fascinating, thought-provoking, and educational ride. Supported with great examples ranging from interior design, urban planning, industrial design, exhibitions, design events and performances as well as the architecture, it was a great way to explore the legitimacy and importance of hip-hop as an academic search subject, relating to race, gender, and history in light of architecture.

Much recommended to all those interested in architecture, contemporary culture, and contemporary issues.
(I also want to add that it was a great surprise and pleasure to see a reference to a project I had the pleasure to work on personally with Stephane Malka in this awesome book! Proud moment.)
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Not quite a manifesto, more than a survey, Hip-Hop Architecture is an impressive piece of work even when its coded around all the things it doesn't want to be. The central issue idea is to tryto non-exclusively draw in the creativity of domiant modern culture (ie hip-hop) and use that energy and its forms of creativity to revitalise architecture, Some of that is nearly literal, of the four pillars of hip-hop graffiti is a literal architectural act. But Cooke is canny enough to not want to close anything down, he is loathe to define hip-hop closely (wise) and equally doesn't want to define architecture too tightly (even wiser). So what is hip-hop architecture? After a long battle to not define it, he offers "Hip-Hop Culture in Built Form".

Cooke has been teaching Hip-Hop Architecture, and run symposiums and exhibitions on the idea for a while now, so there is some concrete work to play with, but also as he comes from academia there is plenty of that baggage to unpack too. He is wary (do you get a theme - he is often wary) of the traps of theoretical definitions, just as he does not want to speak for anyone else in the field. With all these caveats and self imposed barriers in place it is surprising that some really rather concrete proposals and examples are pushed forward. But partially this is because the birth of hip-hop is in itself a architecturally predicated event - the not quite glib suggestion that the forefathers of hip-hop were Corbusier and Robert Moses (notorious NYC town planner who bulldozed neighbourhoods and created projects). This again create more tensions, the conditions to create hip-hop were poor housing, does building hip-hop inspired, or systemically hip-hop compliant buildings perpetrating inequality? All of these ideas get aired, and poked at - Cooke does not want to create buildings which are bad for people, but is also aware that in remixing buildings and allowing for community co-creation that might be an outcome. But yet again, with the baseline question that how is this necessarily worse that current practice?

The practice section is where the theory hits the road and it is a messy meeting: not so much that the ideas have poor consequences but that the practice of hip-hop architecture has rarely been carried out, its a distillation of ideas which run counter to current standard practice. If this was a British book I daresay there would have been a significant amount of space taken up in decolonising architecture, to look at the components which are from a Western tradition with fresh eyes. Instead the practice of aesthetic design leans on hip-hop which is itself about sampling, remixing, creating new out of old. In the practice section the most interesting examples to me were ones where communities were invited to engage to remix or redesign the space. In one the built - but not finished - building was left to "steep" for a few weeks, during which the building was left as accessible like the kind of secure but abandoned warehouse that gets aggressively tagged. In this time any graffiti or art would naturally be created, and when the developer takes it back would form the basis of the built design (I think I really responded to the word steep here). In a second example, part prefab / modular housing would be built, with the services and basics plumbed in - but the tools and components to add and redesign the spaces would also be there (placement of internal wall for bedrooms, garage, porch or other, colours and furnishing). This is a little tinker-town remixing, perhaps from a relatively set amount of components, but suggestion that the freedom to have this control creates a shared space - a greater version of the individualisation process of flowerboxes and parasols that dotted Corbusiers edifices.

I know very little about architecture, and a only a touch more about hip-hop, but I devoured this book as you do when you are confronted with new ideas that excite you. And yet because Cooke's is an academic architect, it is the opposite of a polemic, indeed I wonder if some of the positions on race within architecture could be more powerful. Nevertheless the point is made that architecture is still a very white job in the US (and I daresay everywhere else in the West) and some of the issues around sustainability and working with a community are ideas which have probably been given lip-service for years, are actually given a framework here. Its bold when it needs to be bold, discursive and funny when it needs that. It has all the hip-hop culture mea culpas whilst also dismissing them broadly as against the point (why criticise hip-hop architecture for the potential of misogynistic builds when classical architecture is RIGHT THERE!) There is even a playfulness in the way that all the musical quotes have been taken out due to rights costs, but the footnotes can tell you exactly where to hear them. And considering that b-boying is one of the four pillars of hip-hop, the fact he takes well over half the book before he drops the phrase "Dancing About Architecture" just goes to show how many original ideas are stuffed in here.
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Cooke's book is an important and well-researched comment on how architecture and hip hop culture intertwine with one another that ends up providing a case study of marginalized spaces and voices.
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