sekou cooke STUDIO
Grids + Griots
YMEN (Young Men’s Educational Network) is invested in helping young Black men in North Lawndale transform their lives. YMEN are key players in helping to end the cycle of recidivism and poverty all too familiar to the neighborhood’s residents. An important tool for engaging younger residents is the transfer of oral traditions and histories from generation to generation. The griot––a storyteller, entertainer, and occasional healer––is an important character in many West African cultures. In the book Hip-Hop Architecture, the chapter “Grids + Griots” contrasts the image and attitude of the griot with that of Modernist and Postmodernist architectural practice. This tension between the grid and the griot is the central driving force for the pavilion designed for YMEN.
This design brings together several elements already present on the site and others present in the larger context, each formed using parts of a forty-foot-long shipping container. The pavilion repurposes existing materials, chops them up, and remixes them into a new composition able to be recomposed as needed. The container elements break free from the gridded pavement to determine their own freeform rhythm.
Painting, assembling, and composing the container sections and plywood panels into benches, tables, platforms, planter beds, informal retail stands, and extra bike storage completes the installation using a collaborative, community-led process. The color palette, originally developed and selected by YMEN, originally used to paint the existing container, is now reflected on the interior surfaces of the new container sections––an inversion that complements the disruption and displacement at work throughout the pavilion.