In New York, during National Design Week in October, the museum’s Teen
Design Fair typically attracts more than 400 teenagers from all over the city;
teachers have bussed kids in from as far away as Kansas City, too. “It really
connects us with a very, very diverse population,” says Neuhold-Ravikumar.
“We have 40 designers in our tent and students go from table to table
speaking to them about their career path and getting advice.” In addition,
university representatives are on hand to answer questions about cost and
When Hip Hop Meets Architecture
There are many programs across the country that introduce design to kids,
but, according to architect Michael Ford, those programs still result in low
numbers when it comes to increasing diversity in the design professions.
“Less than 3 percent of architects are African-American. That’s why I brought
this culturally relevant idea of hip hop into the equation,” he explains.
The self-described “Hip Hop Architect” began drawing connections between
hip hop and architecture with his graduate thesis, titled “Hip Hop Inspired
Architecture and Design,” for the Masters of Architecture degree he earned
from the University of Detroit Mercy. Ford was born and raised in the city
of Detroit and currently resides in Madison, Wisconsin, where he owns
The Hip Hop Architecture Camp is a one-week intensive experience, designed
to introduce under-represented youth to architecture, urban planning, creative
placemaking, and economic development through the lens of hip hop culture.
Launched in 2017, the free camp is based on the “4C’s,” which are creativity,
collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. Autodesk has signed on
as national sponsor.
Campers are paired with architects, urban planners, designers, community
activists, and hip hop artists to create unique visions for their communities
that yield physical models, digital models, a Hip Hop Architecture track, and
a music video summarizing their designs. Young people print—and read (not
just listen to)—lyrics from their favorite tracks in order to identify patterns
and the structure of that song. From there, they design cities and buildings
that have the same patterns discovered in the music.
“If the music is talking about abandoned buildings, drugs, or poverty, we
challenge young people to create a program in space that solves the issue
within the song, and the aesthetics of that space is based on the rhythm
and patterns that we extract visually from the music,” says Ford. “That’s the
premise for the camp.”
As more schools are looking at interdisciplinary education with STEM and
STEAM—the “A” stands for arts—design thinking serves as a common
vocabulary for all the fields. That’s why Ruki Neuhold-Ravikumar, director
of education at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York,
thinks it’s important to influence the curriculum early. “To be able to think
critically and solve problems creatively is no longer a special skill set—it’s
a new life skill,” she says. “So, making the transition to thinking on your
feet and being able to relate to users of the solutions that you design—all
of those concepts are taught best through design. This is why we, as a
museum, are working on this with schools, the general public, and various
organizations to help kids relate to a topic that they don’t typically get a lot
of exposure to.”
While many museums take an age-based approach to education that
assumes the kid is the beginner and the adult is the advanced learner,
Neuhold-Ravikumar observes that in the case of design, that’s not always
true. Some adults, even though they’re surrounded by design every day,
could not articulate what it is and could not speak to it at a level where
they’re comfortable. So, almost every weekend, Cooper Hewitt has
programs open to audiences of all ages. “If you bring a child, four is a good
age to start,” notes Neuhold-Ravikumar, “but two-year-olds are mesmerized
and have done pretty well in our programs. Some of our older audiences
are in their 90s and still very engaged. All ages are learning at the same time.
It really creates a great public conversation about design.”
The free Hip Hop Architecture
Camp—a one-week intensive
experience, designed to introduce
to architecture, urban planning,
creative placemaking, and
is based on the “4C’s”: creativity,
and critical thinking.