Envisioning a Hip-Hop Urbanism in Washington DC

In her companion publication to the 2014 group exhibition “Ruffneck Constructivists,” the show’s curator, Kara Walker, lays down a radical manifesto for urban intervention. Just months before Ferguson [2] and a year before Baltimore, [3] Walker proposes her theory through which installation artists (along with architects and designers by extension) can become “defiant shapers of environments.” [4] The invocation and juxtaposition of the terms hip-hop and architecture in the intro to her manifesto is particularly remarkable given the show’s exclusive assembly of visual and installation artists.

Hip-hop architectural theory seeks to reify a form of expression that is a natural component of any cultural movement, but was largely inaccessible to teenaged Blacks and Latinos in 1970s South Bronx. As illustrated in my first essay on the subject, “[e]ach major cultural shift in Western society—Renaissance, Baroque, Modernism—has had its register in a plurality of creative outlets: theater, music, dance, fine art, and architecture. The first four art forms find their counterparts in the ‘four pillars of hip-hop’: deejaying, emceeing, b-boying, and graffiti writing. Architecture is lost.” [5]

A third-year undergraduate design studio at Syracuse Architecture entitled “New Chocolate City: Hip-Hop Architecture in Washington, DC” asked students to reflect on these writings, ideas, and other provocations to ground their semester’s work. Funded by a grant from the DC Office of Planning, the course employed Hip-Hop Architecture as a lens through which to frame new understandings of identity within various Washington, DC neighborhoods.



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