Autodesk seeks to reach future architects through hip hop

The Hip Hop Architecture Camp, which will travel to 17 cities over the next five months, is designed to expose underrepresented kids to new careers.

Erin Carson Former Senior Writer
Erin Carson covered internet culture, online dating and the weird ways tech and science are changing your life.
Expertise Erin has been a tech reporter for almost 10 years. Her reporting has taken her from the Johnson Space Center to San Diego Comic-Con's famous Hall H. Credentials
  • She has a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.
Erin Carson
3 min read

A student at the Hip Hop Architecture Camp uses Autodesk's Tinkercad program.

The Hip Hop Architecture Camp

Tech is far from the only industry with a diversity problem.

Take architecture. Just 4 percent of architects are black and only 0.3 percent are black women, according to the American Institute of Architects.

Autodesk, which makes computer aided design software (CAD) used in many industries including architecture, hopes to start changing that by sponsoring Hip Hop Architecture Camp. The traveling camp will more than double the number of cities to 17 it visits this spring and summer, in the second year of the program, Autodesk said Thursday.

Hip Hop Architecture Camp is linked to the Urban Arts Collective, an organization that exposes underrepresented communities to careers in science, technology, engineering, art and math. Architect Mike Ford co-founded the collective and created the camp.

Ford wrote his graduate thesis on the concept of hip hop-inspired architecture -- the idea that architecture could borrow from characteristics of the musical movement.

"Not only did hip hop democratize the ability to make music, but it made it in a totally unique and innovative way that was culturally relevant, that was liberating and also told stories that were often absent from other forms of media," Ford said. Architecture, he said, should serve the needs of a community.

By connecting these concepts with kids, Ford hopes to help create a future where communities are built by the people who live there. He cited the ways urban planning hasn't always benefited communities of color. For example, in the 1940s and '50s, building highways through black -- not necessarily poor -- neighborhoods was a strategy for urban renewal that ended up destroying those communities or cutting them off from the rest of a city.

Autodesk is among an increasing number of tech companies forging partnerships with educational groups and institutions. In 2016, Google gave Black Girls Code a $2.8 million space in its New York City offices. Salesforce has donated millions of dollars to San Francisco and Oakland public schools.

Partnering with an organization like the Urban Arts Collective is where "tech can be more empowering and not just a bystander," said Sarah O'Rourke, Autodesk senior manager for youth marketing and Tinkercad, a 3D CAD program.

The camps are free and geared toward students ages 10 through 17. Details vary depending on which community the camp is held, but they generally run for a week or weekend. Students are introduced to architecture, as well as concepts such as urban planning. They also get to use Tinkercad. 

The kids will analyze rap music for elements such as structure and rhythm and come up with ideas for how they could inform designs. They'll also 3D print parts for their projects.

At a camp last year in Detroit, Michigan, students put together ideas for the state Department of Transportation's proposal to remove 1-375. When the expressway was built in the 1950s, it tore through a African American neighborhood called Black Bottom.

At the end of the camp, students present their projects by writing a rap. They stage a rap battle and the winner makes a music video.

Here are the communities for 2018:

  • Lake City, South Carolina
  • Kansas City, Missouri
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Bronx, New York
  • Cleveland, Ohio
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Detroit, Michigan
  • Madison, Wisconsin
  • Evansville, Indiana
  • Toledo, Ohio
  • Toronto, Canada
  • Oxon Hill, Maryland
  • Dorchester, Massachusetts
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Tempe, Arizona
  • St. Louis, Missouri
  • Vancouver, Canada

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