What do cardboard boxes and old vacant buildings have in common?
By Samantha Michaels
Use your imagination.
When it comes to playtime, nothing beats a good, old-fashioned cardboard box. As little kids, I bet many of us spent our fair share of time inside one – imagining ourselves as spaceship drivers heading toward outer space, or treasure hunters exploring a deep dark cave. As we’ve grown older and the real world has catapulted us forward, that cardboard box has probably lost its appeal – becoming just another storage container, or a reminder that moving day is on the horizon. But imagine if we could maintain that childhood imagination a little longer. How might we apply it to the benefit of our communities?
In New Orleans, a writer named Rob Walker is answering these questions – not with cardboard boxes, but with vacant, dilapidated buildings. Like many towns, New Orleans has several neglected edifices, and they struck a chord in Walker’s imagination. What could these buildings become, he wondered, in some limitless, hypothetical future? How could they be renovated and used by the community? He had a few ideas up his own sleeves, so he decided to play them out artistically – producing architectural renderings of imagined, fictional and exciting new spaces – and posting them outside the current, neglected ones. In this vein, he founded the Hypothetical Development Organization in 2010.
“In our view, plausibility is a creative dead end.”
Much like children and their cardboard boxes, The Hypothetical Development Organization isn’t bound by convention as it invents future uses for New Orleans’ buildings. Its designers don’t think about commercial potential, practical materials or physics as they come up with their ideas, and their renderings don’t look realistic. Indeed, as the organization’s website states, “In our view, plausibility is a creative dead end.” With this freedom, past ideas have included, “The Museum of the Self” and “The Loitering Centre.” Although some critics wonder whether the signs will confuse local residents – Are they really turning this old ugly building into a “Museum of the Self”? – Walker says his signs aren’t intended to confuse anyone. Instead, The Hypothetical Development Organization is simply trying to get communities thinking and talking about otherwise overlooked spaces, engaging in a new kind of urban storytelling that could even spark community activism. Might the architectural renderings inspire local residents to take action and transform a dilapidated space into something new?
The Hypothetical Development Organization in New Orleans really got me thinking about communities and the evolution of neighborhood spaces. Like New Orleans, many cities are home to neglected real estate, and people tend to walk by without a second thought. The empty buildings have history, and they might remind us of what used to be there. The question is, how can we inspire our neighbors to start discussing their futures?
We want to know:
- Does your community have any old vacant buildings? Have you ever imagined a future use for them?
- What do you think about The Hypothetical Development Project?
- If we consider renovations, should we focus on preserving the history of vacant properties? Or should we try to imagine a modern use, even if it’s totally different?
Start the discussion below!