Michael Ford is a Highland Park-born architect, designer, and educator. He’s made an international name for himself as the “Hip-Hop Architect.” and is the founder of The Hip-Hop Architecture Camp, an award-winning youth camp centered on using hip-hop culture to expose youth to architecture and open their minds up to the various concepts of design.
On Thursday, July 28, Ford is bringing his camp to Highland Park’s Cortland Community Impact Center (formerly Cortland Elementary School). “It’s the elementary school I went to,” he says. “I started kindergarten there. Now I’m coming back as a licensed architect to work on this project.”
Over the last 15 years Detroit and Highland Park have seen multiple schools close down due to budget and low enrollment. Cortland Elementary School closed in 2011, leaving a huge void in the Highland Park Community. Wayne Metro, a non-profit organization that assists the economic needs of low-and moderate-income residents throughout Wayne County, is renovating the space for their own business operations, but also plans to incorporate community spaces.
“You take this underutilized space sitting in the neighborhood, how do we program it to still be a beacon again in the center of the neighborhood, to where people want to live in that neighborhood and they want to use this space like they did when it was a school?” Ford asks.
The two-day camp will also feature architecture workshops, performances by hip-hop artist Super Emcee, and the participants will record a song summarizing the community’s ideas for the Interior Design Coalition.
“This is an opportunity to take an iconic space in the city,” Ford says. “A lot of people went to this school and are from this neighborhood. What’s an H.P. aesthetic? Here’s the opportunity to put that on the top of this building.”
Ford will take the ideas from the camp and implement them throughout the renovations. With assistance from Avalon Villiage’s Mamma Shu and the Interior Design Coalition, Ford believes this will make the youth feel more engaged to the community, and could also inspire the rest of Highland Park.
“We want to see what young people are thinking, because maybe there is a wall on the inside that could be a mural, but we want to see who’s going to be on that mural,” Ford says. “Maybe it’s the teachers who worked at that school that had an impact. Is it the people in Highland Park right now that’s giving a contribution to the neighborhoods? It’s really an open discussion on letting your imagination run as wild as it wants.”
Registration opens July 14 at hiphoparchitecture.com/highlandpark, along with an open house school walk-through from 4:30-6:30 p.m., where alum can share their memories of the school. The free Hip-Hop Architecture Camp is held from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday, July 28-Saturday, July 30.