Sekou Cooke's Hip Hop Architecture

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday June 15, 2023


Hip Hop was born in the Bronx fifty years ago, when two teens threw a back-to-school party in an apartment on Sedgwick Avenue. Everybody danced to the music of James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and The Meters, but something was new: Behind two turntables, the brother Clive, better known as DJ Kool Herc, played two copies of the same record, a technique known as the merry-go-round where one moves back and forth, from one record to the next, looping the percussion portions of each track to keep the beat alive. Source


Over the last five decades, hip-hop’s primary means of expression—deejaying, emceeing, b-boying, graffiti and fashion—have become globally recognized creative practices in their own right, and each has significantly impacted the urban built environment. 

Comparisons between architecture and music go back to the ancient world, when Pythagoras proposed that rhythm, harmony, texture and proportion in architecture is much like that of musical forms—and should be emulated. These qualities continue to inspire musicians and architects alike to this day. And so it goes for Hip Hop, according to Sekou Cooke, a practicing architect based in North Carolina.


Hip-Hop Architecture, he said in an interview in Dezeen, produces spaces, buildings, and environments that embody the creative energy evident in these means of hip-hop expression. Cooke’s exhibition, Close to the Edge: The Birth of Hip-Hop Architecture, which first was shown In New York by the AIANYC Center for Architecture, is now in its fifth iteration, in LA. The show presents the work of students, academics, and practitioners at the center of this emerging architectural revolution. "[Hip hop] is something that's constantly adapting, constantly changing, constantly redefining itself," Cooke told Dezeen. "It's always layered and improvisational." 

The process of making hip-hop music carries striking similarities to an architecture team's process when designing a building, adds Cooke. "Sampling, layering, referencing the past in a very specific way, amplification, remix, flow – all of these words start to hint at us for a specific kind of process. We can start to see those processes as working in architecture in a very specific way."

Cooke's interest in hip-hop architecture began during his time as an undergraduate at Cornell, where his friends were discussing the thesis of Nathan Williams, and he continued reading about the style in architecture graduate school in the 1990s.

The exhibition emerged from Cooke's realization that, though many people were working with a similar set of ideas, the hip-hop architecture field was "disjointed". While acknowledging that no single person "owned" the idea, Cooke thought it important to organize the works set around a "singular set of ideas" into more of a "movement". 

Opening reception for Close to the Edge: The Birth of Hip-Hop Architecture is Saturday, June 24, 6:30-9:00 pm at A + D Museum, 8745 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, CA RSVP There will be a curator walkthrough at 3:00pm Info The accompanying paperback publication is available here Images from previous installations of the show are from the website of Sekou Cooke.