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Sekou Cooke

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Stop Talking Kanye: No More Defense for Kanye West

09:30 - 22 May, 2018
Stop Talking Kanye: No More Defense for Kanye West, Kanye West performing at Boston's TD Garden during his 2016 Saint Pablo tour. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/kennyysun/29441840635'>Flickr user kennyysun</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/'>CC BY 2.0</a>
Kanye West performing at Boston's TD Garden during his 2016 Saint Pablo tour. Image © Flickr user kennyysun licensed under CC BY 2.0

Since the publication of “Keep Talking Kanye: An Architect’s Defense of Kanye West” I have become an unwilling Kanye apologist. Each time he produces music that tempts us to use the moniker “creative genius” he quickly follows with an interview or tweet that makes him look like anything but. Invariably thereafter, a chain of text messages and emails with titles like “just to irritate you” or “come get your boy” begin to flood my inbox. My standard response is often no different from SNL’s Michael Che on Weekend Update: when presented with a headshot of Kanye and the caption “slavery was a choice” the comedian shakes his head and states simply, “Pass!” However, now that Kanye has once again entered the sphere of architectural discourse with a proposed new endeavor called “Yeezy Home” I am compelled to intervene once again with a more direct “put up or shut up” message.

Envisioning a Hip-Hop Urbanism in Washington DC

09:30 - 30 June, 2017
Collage from Ivy City, a preliminary stage of the Ivy City Redux project. Image © Kyle Simmons
Collage from Ivy City, a preliminary stage of the Ivy City Redux project. Image © Kyle Simmons

The following is a manifesto, in search of a movement... In it, I am proposing a theory of architecture based around a ruffneck, antisocial, hip-hop, rudeboy ethos. [1]
– Kara Walker

In her companion publication to the 2014 group exhibition “Ruffneck Constructivists,” the show’s curator, Kara Walker, lays down a radical manifesto for urban intervention. Just months before Ferguson [2] and a year before Baltimore, [3] Walker proposes her theory through which installation artists (along with architects and designers by extension) can become “defiant shapers of environments.” [4] The invocation and juxtaposition of the terms hip-hop and architecture in the intro to her manifesto is particularly remarkable given the show’s exclusive assembly of visual and installation artists.

The Barack Obama Presidential Center: Adjaye or Not Adjaye?

09:30 - 27 October, 2015
The Barack Obama Presidential Center: Adjaye or Not Adjaye?, The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, currently under construction. Image © Nathan Perkel for Surface Magazine
The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, currently under construction. Image © Nathan Perkel for Surface Magazine

There has been much debate, speculation and excitement among architectural enthusiasts about who is on the shortlist to design the Barack Obama Presidential Center in Chicago. After spending an afternoon viewing “Making Place: The Architecture of David Adjaye,” now on at the Art Institute of Chicago, I’m more convinced than ever that Adjaye is the right person for the job.

The Fifth Pillar: A Case for Hip-Hop Architecture

01:00 - 30 April, 2014
The Fifth Pillar: A Case for Hip-Hop Architecture, Filip Dujardin’s ‘Fictions’ - a series of photographic plates of fictional architectural spaces. Image Courtesy of Highlight Gallery
Filip Dujardin’s ‘Fictions’ - a series of photographic plates of fictional architectural spaces. Image Courtesy of Highlight Gallery

The following article by Sekou Cooke was originally published in The Harvard Journal of African American Planning Policy.

Not DJ Kool Herc. Not The Sugarhill Gang. Not Crazy Legs. Not even Cornbread. The true father of hip-hop is Moses. The tyrannical, mercilessly efficient head of several New York City public works organizations, Robert Moses, did more in his fifty-year tenure to shape the physical and cultural conditions required for hip-hop’s birth than any other force of man or nature. His grand vision for the city indifferently bulldozed its way through private estates, middle-class neighborhoods, and slums. His legacy: 658 playgrounds, 28,000 apartment units, 2,600,000 acres of public parks, Flushing Meadows, Jones Beach, Lincoln Center, all interconnected by 416 miles of parkways and 13 bridges. Ville Radieuse made manifest, not by Le Corbusier, the visionary architect, but by “the best bill drafter in Albany.”

This new urbanism deepened the rifts within class and culture already present in post-war New York, elevated the rich to midtown penthouses and weekend escapes to the Hamptons or the Hudson Valley, and relegated the poor to crowded subways and public housing towers—a perfect incubator for a fledgling counterculture.  One need not know all the lyrics to Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” or Melle Mel’s “White Lines” to appreciate the incendiary structures built by Moses and his policies. As the Bronx began to burn, hip-hop began to rise.

Keep Talking Kanye: An Architect's Defense of Kanye West

01:00 - 10 October, 2013
Keep Talking Kanye: An Architect's Defense of Kanye West, Kanye West being interviewed by Zane Lowe for BBC One.
Kanye West being interviewed by Zane Lowe for BBC One.

I may be in the minority among my peers, but I want Kanye West to keep talking. Despite the many who despise, disparage or dismiss him—unwilling or unable to properly digest what he’s saying, consuming bite-sized quotes and late-night parodies instead of engaging him in intellectual discourse—I want him to keep talking.

As a black man and an architect (one of about 2,000 in this country who can claim membership to both those groups), I am particularly cognizant of the Truman Show wall that exists between architects and recognition, and between black architects and acceptance. West's recent interview with Zane Lowe administered reflections on design, architecture and the creative process in a dosage too high for most to swallow. I am tripping over myself with fear and excitement at the prospect of having such a powerful mouthpiece for a generation of black architects and designers who share his frustration and connect with his message.

Why? Because when Kanye West talks, people listen.