How many times have you walked past an old abandoned building and thought: that would be a great place for a bar/library/gallery/fill-in-the-blank? On runs through Red Hook and along the Gowanus Canal, I often find myself struck by certain wabi sabi looking warehouses and industrial buildings and thinking about the wonderful kinds of “third places” that could inhabit them. Abandoned buildings are evocative substrates for this kind of architectural daydreaming — like discarded hermit crab shells, they have both history and possibility.
I love the way this idea, The Hypothetical Development Project, takes those germs of imagined futures and makes them visible. The project, a public art collaboration between Rob Walker, Ellen Susan, and G.K. Darby, creates renderings of ideas for uses of abandoned buildings in New Orleans, which will be posted at the sites like developers’ renderings. In this case, though, the envisioned uses are a bit left of center. A Museum of the Self, with an enormous Facebook-style thumbs up is one; a Loitering Centre is another. Juxtaposed against the forlorn emptiness of abandoned structures, these silly fantasies feel delightful — they are uninhibited manifestations of creative energy, filtered through a lens of hope.
That they are implausible is their charm, but I half-h0pe that one of them will be compelling enough to stick. The trio is raising funds via Kickstarter (they’re very close to their goal, and just need a little help getting over the line!), and I imagine a sequel where popular passion for one of the Hypothetical Development ideas becomes the seed for a real, crowdsourced development project. I feel like we need more unconventional spaces for people to convene in our urban environments, and it’s exciting to think about how fiction can find new possibilities in old structures. In effect, these renderings are like playful narrative prototypes, highlighting new ways and places to gather in the years to come.