Ads for Imaginary Buildings Highlight Lack of Real Development

Posted by Alissa Walker


Every neighborhood has one. You know, the vacant, dilapidated building that has sat empty for a year or more, completely neglected—except for that fading developer sign with a sleek architectural rendering promising some new and exciting edifice set against a bright blue sky. A building that, of course, has still not materialized. Wouldn't it be amazing, thought writer Rob Walker (no relation to me), if signs like these could be produced to highlight the ignored real estate in a city? Hypothetical Development is a new project founded by Walker, Ellen Susan, and G.K. Darby that's looking to do exactly that for New Orleans.

In fact, Walker, who writes The New York Times Magazine column "Consumed" and was behind the Significant Objects project, first floated the idea a year ago on his blog Murketing after he noticed one of these buildings near his house in Savannah, Georgia:

As I walked past this spot for the zillionth time recently, it occurred to me that there are vacant buildings with no discernible future all over town — all over lots of towns. Wouldn’t it be cool to create completely fictional, but imaginative and exciting, “artist renderings” of their hypothetical futures, too? And post those renderings on the actual vacant buildings?

Now, egged on by his partners, Walker is doing it. Hypothetical Development will feature dozens of architectural renderings for imaginary, never-gonna-happen places, which will be placed on vacant or otherwise forgotten buildings and sites throughout New Orleans. Some ideas the group has come up with already are "The Museum of the Self" and "The Loitering Centre."

Walker (who used to live in New Orleans) and a team of locals chose the sites, for which they've created a map and are now fundraising on Kickstarter to produce the renderings. In addition, the location-based app Gowalla will help to create an itinerary of all the sites, which will serve as a unique tour of the city.

Of course, the meaning of these signs could be misunderstood. Do they worry that residents might get excited about a potential building coming to the neighborhood, only to be disappointed when nothing happens? "This concern has come up, but I believe it's addressed by the nature of the proposals," says Walker. "We tried to avoid any idea that would seem too realistically promising—and also anything that was too much of a potential bummer!"

Still, the idea that such a rendering could rally local residents around an ignored piece of real estate is not so far-fetched. Perhaps this street art project could turn into authentic grassroots activism. "I do think it would be great if the project drew attention to some of these under-used spaces, and something real happens as a result," says Walker. "But really, our goal is probably more modest—just to inject a bit of intrigue, engagement, and pleasure into a corner of the built environment that's otherwise overlooked."

The images will be featured in a New Orleans gallery at the end of their neighborhood run. Check out the website (a beautifully-rendered parody of a real estate developer site) for more information, and watch for the signs to debut this December.