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Blight of Fancy
Hypothetical Development Organization Renews How they Wanna
Many an idle driver wanders around New Orleans appreciating the city’s old buildings for they fit in the landscape. At times, even the decay seems to be set in place on purpose. Yet, the work of a new organization shows that to bike down thoroughfares like St. Claude Ave. or Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. and hypothesize the future of the St. Roch market, the old department store fronts and locked parks is to re-imagine those places as something new.
To get any real work done on these places, architects and designers must work within the realistic boundaries like a building’s structural risk, flood risk, and how they’ll be able to convince the neighbors they aren’t carpetbaggers or get-rich schemers. The Hypothetical Development Organization awards designers, architects, and artists the freedom to blur reality and imagine the impossible future for real buildings in New Orleans.
After a preview show in the French Quarter in December, the group now has a full show at a gallery with a French name.."Implausible Futures For Unpopular Places" premieres tonight at the Du Mois Gallery and runs until May 7. The exhibits’ opening reception will be this Saturday from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. While H.D.O. The preview party featured four works, which turned the spotlight on New Orleans’ potential for fresh food, and played with American projections of laziness and self congratulation. This time, 14 pieces will be on display - including two never before seen designs.
Since December, Organization artists have scoured the city, posting 3X5 signs depicting their imaginary hopes for buildings. The brainchild of founder G.K. Darby, Ellen Susan, and Rob Walker, the Hypothetical Development Organization takes equal inspiration from Heronyimous Bosch's “The Garden of Earthly Delights” and bad futuristic movie trailers that start with "In a world where.....". The renderings push viewers to envision the impossible while using familiar buildings.
“Once I saw pictures of the old Scottish Rite Masonic Temple building on St. Bernard (Ave.), I knew that it would fit perfectly with the theme.” said Sergio Humberto Padilla , a contributor to the Organization whose other credits include the Radtke Reading Room and Archive, an homage to ghost graffiti artist Fred Radtke.
Even before their opening, the Organization has snagged national attention. The project has been featured in publications from every liberal’s favorite, Good Magazine, to a cornucopia of “hip hunter” blogs. The press and buzz has also allowed the Organization to corrall a diverse group of artists both from inside and outside New Orleans. For the full show, Detroit artist Michael Doyle created the “Theatre of Escape.”
“I've been a fan of Rob Walker's Murketing blog and the New York Times column (Consumed) for a long time, explained Doyle. “When I first read about the Hypothetical Development Organization, I thought it was such a great idea that I immediately e-mailed Rob and volunteered to help. Rob gave me the concept brief, and then we traded ideas back and forth on how to bring it to life.”
Despite the artists’well thought out designs,Walker said that doesn’t mean any of the developments are poised to become real - yet.
“I am still waiting for Bill Gates to call up and fund the Loitering Centre,” Walker said of his contribution, which depicts an area made specifically so people can, for once, stand around. “But, so far, nothing. Maybe he’s reading this?”
Debuted at the December preview, the Loitering Centre, developed by local architect Mark Clayton, is the ultimate location to spend hours doing nothing. Photographer Jennifer Shaw referred her pal Clayton to the project.
“We live in one of the ultimate loitering capitals of the world. So, I just began to list the many ways in we just hang around doing pretty much nothing,” said Clayton, who can often be found loitering around The Saint and The Allways Lounge. “I then conceived of a space devoid of any specific purpose - the perfect loitering spot.
The Organization’s entries waver between spotlight blight and roasting redevelopment efforts. Architect and educator Carey Clouse portrays the city’s overwhelming issue with blight and also slightly mocks the ever trendy “green movement."
“This project stood out as an opportunity to call attention to our city's widespread blight and vacancy in New Orleans with a fresh, creative, and defiant--- but nevertheless positive--- response,” Clouse said to introduce her design “The Grow House. “The Grow House is a nod to the many generously vegetated buildings in our city, as well as a jab, perhaps, at the green building mania that defines hip in design circles today.”
The Clayton, Padilla, Clouse, and Doyle renderings will be joined by two never before seen designs. The two newcomers are the Rubble Depot by Meg Turner and the Treme Authenticity Monument by Kirsten Hively. Walker ran into a rare problem with getting those two renderings off the ground.
“Both of those would have been installed in late March -- but the buildings we were interested in show signs of actual (not Hypothetical) development,” he said. “On some level this is a headache for us, but we can't really be too upset about it, because real development seems like good news for N.O. And we're all for that!”
With the national attention and growing portfolio of designs many have wondered if the Organization will begin making fictitious sketches for abandoned buildings in other cities, like Omaha and Los Angeles.
“We certainly have had inquiries and feelers, including a very interesting suggestion relating to suburban big-box stores gone vacant in the Great Recession,” Walker said. “We’ve learned a lot from this experience, and made a lot of really fantastic contacts, that would help us make any sequel quite good, I believe. But we’ll only do it if we can live up to and surpass this debut.”
Whether the Organization will tackle the horrors of fictitious revival of the suburban box store wastelands is unclear, but their ability to push people to imagine the implausible, be it to pay homage to much loved (or hated) street artists or to loiter at ease, is commendable, not to mention downright fun.
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