Sekou Cooke mixes hip hop, architecture to rethink urban design


UNC Charlotte professor and hip-hop architecture leader Sekou Cooke is on a mission to challenge the way architects design buildings.

Jamaican-born Cooke first encountered hip-hop architecture as a student at Cornell in the mid-1990s, and he continued to be at the forefront of the movement, Charlotte Observer reports.

The university’s Charlotte Building is currently home to Cooke’s exhibit, “Close to the Edge: The Birth of Hip-Hop Architecture,” which will be on display until July 15 before heading to Washington, DC and Atlanta.

As Director of the Urban Design Program at UNC Charlotte, where he landed after seven years at Syracuse University, Cooke said his goal is to reshape the curriculum and challenge students with projects that get them thinking about affordable housing and racial disparities in the housing market.

Sekou Cooke sits amid works by We Outchea, a design project by his sekou cooke STUDIO that appeared in the Museum of Modern Art’s 2021 exhibition, “Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America.” One of the themes explored by the project is the history of the displacement of Syracuse, New York’s black population through urban renewal projects. (Image courtesy of Sékou Cooke).

Other goals are to diversify the white male-dominated architectural profession and shake up the landscape of urban development. There are about 116,000 registered architects in the country, and only 2% identify as African American, Cooke told the Observer.

Cooke believes hip-hop architecture can be a game-changer in urban development because it allows black building designers to unleash their boundless imaginations and vivid creativity through their projects.

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“What hip-hop architecture does is say, here’s a process, here’s a platform, here’s a framework that includes you,” he told the Observer. “You can play with us. We’re going to reshape this thing in a way that doesn’t necessarily follow the rules. They actually challenge the rules and talk about how things can be completely different or better or something that we never even imagined.

As Cooke writes in his recently published book, hip hop architecture“Many have managed to exist simultaneously as successful architects and black people. Few have succeeded in expressing their darkness through their architecture.

Cooke also notes in the book that it is easier to describe the process of creating hip-hop architecture rather than what it looks like. During his master’s studies at Harvard, he addressed this topic in a 2014 essay titled “The Fifth Pillar: A Case for Hip Hop Architecture,” which appeared in The Harvard Journal of African American Planning Policy.

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“In this essay, I was really trying to present a singular case for positioning architecture within the realm of all hip-hop elements and saying that it can be a viable product of hip-hop culture,” Cooke said. in a February interview with The architect’s journal. “It was really meant to be a one-off thing, like, ‘Okay, I’m doing this, I’ve got the ideas out of my head, it’s out, now I can get on with my life.'”

Moving on involved how he identified himself professionally and the implications of that identity. “I’m not a hip-hop architect, I’m not even a black architect, I’m an architect and first and foremost I want to identify as an architect,” said Cooke, who runs the architectural design firm and urban, sekou cooke. STUDIO. “To me, that means someone who is able to take really complex ideas and get them built and tested in the real world.”

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