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Review: Hypothetical Development Organization

Pelicanbomb. May 3, 2011

Hypothetical Development Organization, or H.D.O., has wildlyimagined the future of twelve buildings throughout New Orleans. H.D.O.’s concepts enter into two distinctcontextual realms: urban redevelopment and architectural fiction. At the same time, they open the next conversation held by street artists on those same derelict buildings. While many of the city’sprolific street artists turn to illustration (like Tard) or old-school graffiti (like Harsh), none actually envision anything for the future. Street art in New Orleans has for the most partsimply existed in the moment, with artistslooking to mark up the next great location. H.D.O. takes the discussion to the next level by conceptualizing the future of each site, rather than simply marking upon it. In fact, H.D.O. does not physically change anything about the site. Instead, they dream.

Hypothetical Development was founded by G.K. Darby, Ellen Susan, and Rob Walker in 2010. Each member of the organization began by exploring different neighborhoods and commercial districts for forgotten structures that provoked alternative narratives. They ask the question:What could this structure be without the constraints of money, materials, or even physics? Once an idea has been formed, an artist is chosen to render a two-dimensional model and a sign is placed on the site. This sign can function as a traditionalstreet tag orposeas a startling announcement by a real estate developer. Either way, it calls attention to the fundamental disrepair of the building.  

Candy Chang, co-founder of Civic Center, an urban design studio, rendered the vision of Mobile Cornucopia. The building, located at 900 Franklin Avenue, is reimagined perched on a pickup truck, traveling throughout the city providing groceries. Chang’s vivacious image emphasizes the impossibility of the proposition:shoppers walk on massive steaks and cabbages while benches made of gigantic carrots surround real-life produce purveyor Mr. Okra’s famous red truck. The sign for the Mobile Cornucopia was placed over existingstreet tags last December, effectively reclaimingthe site as its own.

Despite their implausibility, each of the extravagant visions challenges local street artists, as well as the regular passerby,to contemplate how they will be visually interacting with the New Orleans landscape five, ten, or twenty years from now. Will the city adopt imaginative thinking or will those in power continue to develop uninspiring structures that maintain the status quo? While H.D.O.’s visions embrace absurdist tendencies, they remind city inhabitants that a better future often starts with a dream.

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