Dezeen Magazine

Portrait of Michael Ford

"Stop working on spaces which disproportionately impact African Americans" says architectural designer Michael Ford

Architects should stop designing jails and prisons, which are representations of systemic racism in the US, if they want to really impact the fight for racial equality, says Michael Ford.

Ford told Dezeen that designing buildings for confinement conflicts with an architect's role to protect people.

He said these buildings particularly represent an unjust system in America, where African Americans are incarcerated at over five times the rate of white people, according to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"If architecture is honestly concerned with the health, safety, and welfare of the public, we can not agree to have our professionals designing prisons!" Ford said.

"The future is now! Architects can immediately stop working on spaces which disproportionately impact the lives of African Americans, and inhumanly treat people in general, such as prisons and jails!"

Hip-hop is "saturated with critiques of the built environment"

The architectural designer, who brands himself as the "hip-hop architect", runs free Hip Hop Architecture camps to teach children in minority communities about architecture, urban design and planning through music. He told Dezeen in a 2018 interview that his aim is to spread the word about architecture, which is commonly "represented by white males", to underrepresented groups.

Ford spoke to Dezeen following the death of African American George Floyd in police custody, which sparked protests against police violence across the US. He said hip-hop lyrics offer "visions for better communities" that have defeated racism.

"The lyrics are saturated with critiques of the built environment and when juxtaposed with visions of architects and urban planners, the lyrics provide the urban reality of urban renewal," Ford said.

"The lyrical dexterity of hip hops' emcees not only critique the built environment but simultaneously provide visions for better communities to those who are able to hear and understand the double entendres found within the complex rhyme schemes."

Competition launched for Just City that has "dismantled racism"

Following on from this, and in light of Floyd's death, Ford launched the Hip Hop + Architecture as Design Justice competition calling for city designs based on hip hop.

"We are teaming with hip-hop artists to challenge people to use hip-hop tracks about protests, to visualise new places and spaces for a Just City," Ford said, "A city which has defeated and dismantled racism."

Ford has also established #DesignasProtest with designer and activist De Nichols, and architect Bryan Lee Jr.

The initiative is described as a "black-led organising effort, in solidarity with the Black Lives Movement to marshall creative design strategies to dismantle the privilege and powers structures that use #architecture and #design as a tool of oppression".

Support those "actively working to diversify" the profession

The architectural designer said others in the profession can immediately create change by supporting those protesting and donating to organisations including the George Floyd memorial fund and Justice for Breonna Taylor, who was shot dead in bed by police officers on 13 March.

"Some immediate actions include donating money to people who are on the frontlines of the protests and those who are actively working to diversify the design profession," he said.

Floyd died in Minneapolis on 25 May after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Architectural organisations have responded by expressing guilt about and the profession's responsibility for creating racial inequality. "As a predominantly white profession, we recognise that we have contributed to this pain," wrote leaders of the Minnesota chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

The National Organization of Minority Architects also demanded an end to the "deadly and pervasive virus called racism that has plagued America".

Read on for Ford's list of organisations to support:

Organisations focused on diversifying the design profession:

Request a Hip Hop Architecture Lecture
Host a Hip Hop Architecture Camp
Donate to Hip Hop Architecture Camp

Support those on the front lines fighting for justice:

Help The Family of George Floyd
Fight for justice for Breonna Taylor
Help the family of Ahmaud Arbery
Donate to one or more community bail funds to help protestors