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Exhibit on hip-hop architecture wraps up at the Dubois Center this Friday

UNC Charlotte College of Art and Design
The exhibit "Close to the Edge: the Birth of Hip Hop Architecture" ends on Friday. Sekou Cole, the curator, says that hip-hop architecture highlights new voices in the world of architecture.

The “Close to the Edge: the Birth of Hip Hop Architecture” exhibit at the UNC Charlotte Center City’s DuBois Center is closing on Friday.

The exhibit features photos of buildings fitting into the hip-hop architecture movement as well as rap lyrics written out in spray paint running along the ceiling.

Sekou Cooke, the curator of the exhibit, has also written a book on the concept of hip-hop architecture.

While there are no specific architectural elements that define a building as part of the hip-hop architecture movement, Cooke says hip-hop architecture is about showcasing voices that have traditionally not been a part of the architectural field.

“What my work is about is finding or shining a light on the ways where people have been changing their built environments,” he said. “That is actually reflecting different cultural norms that have very little to do with Western ideologies or European-centric design ideas.”

UNC Charlotte College of Art and Design
One of the examples of hip-hop architecture displayed at the exhibit comes from the Netherlands. The artist, Boris “Delta” Tellegen, is a visual artist with roots in graffiti.

The hip-hop architectural movement has grown over the past 25 years.

In curating the exhibit, Cooke looks at the work of people associated with hip-hop culture, such as DJs and graffiti artists who have transitioned into architecture. He also looks at buildings that draw on fashion and pop culture related to hip hop, too.

“It's something that's really defied a very specific definition for quite a long time, much like hip-hop culture itself has defied definition,” Cooke said. “But all in all, it's much more about the process that has gone through the identity of the people and the creation of new images.”

The exhibit debuted in New York City in 2018, then traveled to Minnesota in 2019, before sitting in storage for three years. After the exhibit wraps up in Charlotte on Friday, its next stop is the Atlanta’s Museum of Design in October.

Cooke says hip-hop architecture connects people of different backgrounds to architecture and makes more audiences feel seen.

When people see something that speaks to them in the way that they live, the way that they understand the world,” he said, “then architecture isn't something that's separate from them. It's something that's about them. And that's ideally what architecture is supposed to be.”

That really boils down to diversifying the world of architecture and bucking the canon of western architecture, Cooke said.

“It's changing people's minds. It's changing neighborhoods. It's changing communities and environments ... this is what really compels me to this work. It’s not the architecture that we all learned in school.”

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Lars Lonnroth is a journalism and political science student at Mercer University in Georgia. He's interning at WFAE.