The Center for Architecture’s latest exhibition in New York City, Close to the Edge: The Birth of Hip-Hop Architecture, combines 20 years of research on a movement that’s barely been covered before and is at the cusp of exploding.
Hip-hop architecture, the movement on view, could become the next big design style despite historically being a lesser-known development compared to the global impact of hip-hop culture on music, film, and dance industries. By tackling issues such as hip-hop’s role in identity and placemaking, Syracuse University professor Sekou Cooke curated a special exhibition that details the theoretical and physical rise of hip-hop architecture in the built environment and how it can inform a more inclusive design practice for the future.
Now showing in New York through January 12, this comprehensive exhibit unveils the work of 21 architects, professors, and students who have imagined architecture as a distinct part of hip-hop’s cultural expression. The show chronicles these figures through history, starting with the “godfather of hip-hop architecture,” Nate Williams, who completed his thesis on the subject at Cornell University in 1993. Also on display is the work of Boris “DELTA” Tellegen of Heren 5, artists Olalekan Jeyifous and Lauren Halsey, and more.
Layered behind the images, drawings, and models in the show is extensive tagging done solely in black by pioneering graffiti artist David “Chino” Villorente. Complemented by graphic design from WeShouldDoItAll, the graffiti brings a visual punch to the Center’s main gallery spaces and transforms their walls into a medium for cultural commentary. Repurposed shipping containers painted white are bolted to the walls, providing another layer of backdrop for the framed artwork. Not only is the exhibit eye candy for visitors and passersby, it also includes audio and video components of lectures, podcasts, and hip-hop music reflecting on the built environment.
At Monday’s opening reception, Barry Bergdoll, the new board president of the Center, called Close to the Edge a “landmark exhibition” for the movement of hip-hop architecture and compared it to Philip Johnson’s seminal Modern Architecture International Exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1932. That exhibition drew wide praise and helped usher in the International Style in the United States—something similar to what Cooke and his team hopes will come out of this effort.
The Center will host the Hip-Hop Architecture Symposium on Saturday, October 6 from 1 to 6 p.m., moderated by Cooke, as well as a workshop with BlackSpace that will explore architecture as a tool for Black cultural preservation.