STANDARDS

NGSS: Core Idea: ETS1.B

CCSS: Language: 3

TEKS: Science: 3.2A, 4.2A, 5.2A, 6.2A; ELA: 3.2A, 3.6E, 4.2A, 4.6E, 5.2A, 5.6E, 6.15B, 6.27

Bricks and Beats

Michael Ford shows kids how to design cities inspired by their favorite songs

Photo Courtesy of The Hip Hop Architecture Camp

COOL STEAM JOB: Michael Ford plans a city with a student at one of his camps.

Take a look around your neighborhood. You might see skyscrapers, rows of brick houses, parking lots, or playgrounds. Have you ever wondered how each of those structures got there? 

They all began as an idea in someone’s head—someone like Michael Ford. He designs buildings and other structures. But Ford’s job has a twist. He also teaches kids about architecture, the art of building design, so they can have a say about what’s built in their neighborhoods. 

To make the lessons more meaningful, Ford connects them to something many kids already love: hip-hop music!

Take a look around your neighborhood. You might see skyscrapers or rows of brick houses. Maybe there are parking lots or playgrounds. Have you ever thought about how those structures got there? 

They all began as an idea. They came from the mind of someone like Michael Ford. He designs buildings and other structures. But Ford’s job has a twist. He also teaches kids about architecture. That’s the art of building design. He wants them to have a say about what’s built in their neighborhoods. 

Ford ties his lesson to something many kids already love. It’s hip-hop music! That helps them relate to what they’re learning.

Photo Courtesy of The Hip Hop Architecture Camp

Students design cityscapes based on the rhythms of rap lyrics.

From Lyrics to Cities

Ford is known as the “Hip Hop Architect.” He runs a week-long program in U.S. cities called the Hip Hop Architecture Camp.

Hip-hop and architecture may not seem like they have much in common. But Ford draws interesting connections between the two art forms. Hip-hop artists often sing about problems they see in their communities, like poverty. Architects design things that can help, such as affordable homes. 

At the start of Ford’s camp, students learn how to make models. Architects use these small versions of buildings to plan their designs. Ford helps kids build towers with LEGO® bricks and wooden blocks that are inspired by hip-hop lyrics. For instance, longer lyrics turn into taller towers. Students pick colors or shapes to represent rhymes and other sounds.

Next, campers identify problems described in the rap songs. They brainstorm ways to solve them with architecture. “The goal is to get young people to not only listen to music but to respond to it,” Ford says.

Students make sketches that include details like what the buildings will be made out of. They use a computer program called Autodesk Tinkercad to test 3-D models of their designs. If a shape is unbalanced, the building will collapse. Students adjust the structures until they are stable. Finally, they build their models with a 3-D printer. 

Ford is known as the “Hip Hop Architect.” He runs a week-long program. It’s called the Hip Hop Architecture Camp. It takes place in different U.S. cities. 

Hip-hop and architecture are very different. But Ford finds things the two art forms have in common. Hip-hop artists often sing about problems in their communities. One example is poverty. Architects design things that can help. They might make homes people can afford. 

Students learn to make models at the start of Ford’s camp. Models are small versions of buildings. Architects use them to plan their designs. Ford helps kids build towers. They use LEGO® bricks and wooden blocks. Their creations are based on hip-hop lyrics. Longer lyrics might result in taller towers. Students’ towers come in different colors or shapes. They represent rhymes and other sounds in songs.

Next, campers find problems talked about in rap songs. They think about ways to solve them with architecture. “The goal is to get young people to not only listen to music but to respond to it,” Ford says.

Students make drawings. They have details like what a building will be made out of. They use a computer program. It’s called Autodesk Tinkercad. It tests 3-D models of their designs. A building’s shape needs to be balanced or it could fall down. Students adjust their designs. They want them to be stable. Finally, they make their models. They use a 3-D printer. The device builds up layers of plastic. They form a solid object.

Photo Courtesy of The Hip Hop Architecture Camp

Students from one of Ford’s camps pose in front of their home city of Chicago.

That’s a “Rap”

Architects have to be able to explain their designs. At the end of Ford’s camp, kids write and perform their own rap songs about their projects. 

Since 2017, more than 1,200 students have attended a Hip Hop Architecture Camp. Ford hopes the camps spark a passion for architecture in African-American kids who might not see it as a possible career. In the U.S., only 2 percent of architects are African American.  

Ford wants to inspire kids of all backgrounds to become architects. That will allow them to shape their own communities. “Imagine walking into a space that was the fantasy of a young person who grew up in your neighborhood, who listened to the same music as you,” Ford says. “How different would it be?”

Architects have to be able to explain their designs. Kids write rap songs about their projects. They perform them at the end of Ford’s camp.

Hip Hop Architecture Camp has been around since 2017. More than 1,200 students have attended. Ford hopes the camps spark a love of building design in African American kids. Only 2 percent of architects In the U.S. are African American. Many don’t view architecture as a possible career.

Ford wants kids of all backgrounds to become architects. That will allow them to shape their own communities. “Imagine walking into a space that was the fantasy of a young person who grew up in your neighborhood, who listened to the same music as you,” Ford says. “How different would it be?”

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