If the name isn't descriptive enough, the Hypothetical Development Organization is a group of folks who generate what they call "implausible futures for unpopular places". They'll take an abandoned or under-developed site and come up with an interesting use for it, develop the concept, and deliver with often otherworldly renderings. In many cases, they actually print out Coming Soon! style announcement boards and post them at the existing site.
I like that they make cool images and that they're playful and interested in improving things, but their approach is so close to the way I see things, and the way that I want to practice some day, that I was terribly disappointed when I found out that the designs don't have any teeth. As their name suggests, the designs are always purely hypothetical. There is no pretense about designing buildings for the future; these people design drawings, renderings, and concepts. Now, I don't mean that as a value judgment; I'm not saying what they do is bad. In fact, I don't think it's bad at all. The limited scope allows them to be crazy, which is good, and they generate creative buzz in the areas that they target. And I can understand why they don't even attempt to make real things (other than real ideas...) because it's difficult, time-consuming, and expensive.
What I am saying is that I initially thought that they were a real company that did real stuff, and that I'm disappointed that they're not [they didn't mislead me; I just misunderstood]. Imagine if there was a company that went from place to place doing unsolicited design work for unsuspecting places, and then pitched amazing proposals to the owners/decision makers and helped them make the design happen. I know it's kind of silly, but I think it would be great. One day someday I'll try it out.
Not to keep going back to my own work, this is the approach I took with my graduate thesis (briefly mentioned here). I identified a focus area in downtown Auburn and proposed new uses for all of the abandoned and under-valued sites within it. I wanted to see if I could come up with stuff that I thought was appropriate and had value, and I wanted to experiment with ways of producing descriptive and attractive visuals. The whole exercise was meant to be a run-through of what I hoped to do professionally: design big changes, and sell the ideas. It went okay.
They heard me singing and they told me to stop:
"Quite these pretentious things and just punch the clock."
Sometimes I wonder if the world's so small,
can we ever get away from the sprawl?
Living in the sprawl,
dead shopping malls rise
like mountains beyond mountains,
and there's no end in site.
I need the darkness;
someone please cut the lights.
Lyrics from The Suburbs track #15, "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)", winner of the Grammy for Album of the Year (2011). I've been listening to and enjoying Arcade Fire since college. I'm pleasantly surprised they won, and I love that I can tag a post about them with #urbanism.
Excellent and thoughtful consideration of the relationship between content and its container (books, periodicals, digital devices, etc.) and the future of ink and paper books in light of new technology. This post is a bit old now, but I was reviewing some old bookmark links (via Instapaper, which I love) and I remembered my favorite part about this article. Not only am I a bit of a book junkie - like him, I love what he calls the "sexy-as-hell tactility of those little ink and paper bricks" - I'm also a designer, and in the realm of brick and mortar. At the end of his article, he predicts the future of book making, and I was struck by the strong correlation between his views on books and my views on buildings and cities. His words:
"I propose the following to be considered whenever we think of printing a book:
The Books We Make embrace their physicality working in concert with the content to illuminate the narrative.
The Books We Make are confident in form and usage of material.
The Books We Make exploit the advantages of print.
The Books We Make are built to last. (Fig. 9a, 9b)
The result of this is:
The Books We Make will feel whole and solid in the hands.
The Books We Make will smell like now forgotten, far away libraries.
The Books We Make will be something of which even our children who have fully embraced all things digital will understand the worth.
The Books We Make will always remind people that the printed book can be a sculpture for thoughts and ideas.
Anything less than this will be stepped over and promptly forgotten in the digital march forward.
Goodbye disposable books.
Hello new canvases."
Think about real places versus digital places. This same battle is raging everywhere you look. Think Barnes & Noble vs. Amazon, CD Warehouse (remember?) vs. iTunes, Blockbuster vs. Netflix, etc. The list is long (SEE ALSO).
In light of new technology, brick and mortar places seem to have a diminishing value. When everyone is highly mobile and communication to anywhere in the world is effortless and instant, it leaves little incentive to invest in an actual place, whether it's a city, town, or neighborhood.
I respect what Mr. Mod is saying about books: when we no longer need to make them, we will choose to make them and their design will communicate their value. In the same way, in an age in which we no longer need to build great cities or great buildings, I hope that when the rare opportunity to make a great place or to build something that will last comes along we'll be able as a society to rally around the cause and pour in the money and talent and great energy required to do so.
I would love to be able to say "Goodbye disposable buildings" or, even better, "Goodbye disposable cities" but I don't know if or when it's going to happen.
You should probably look at all of Craig Mod’s stuff. It’s all good, and this especially is beautiful to read and to look at.
I found out last night that I've been accepted to volunteer at the Congress for the New Urbanism Conference hosted this year in Atlanta. I had to apply for consideration and didn't send in my forms until the due date, so this is good news, and surprising. I'm not sure how competitive it was, but I'm very happy to be exempted from the $435 registration fee.
...And the list of speakers! I only recognize about a third of the names, but those that I do recognize are really exciting - folks from juries in college, people I've read and cited in papers, and a lot of people that are high up in the great, good firms in Atlanta.
My Most Notables:
William de St. Aubin, Sizemore Group
Peter Drey, Cooper Carry
Ray Gindroz, Urban Design Associates
David Green, Lord Aeck Sargent (formerly with Perkins+Will)
Kenneth Groves, City of Montgomery
James Howard Kunstler
Terry Shook, Shook Kelley Architects
For me, this list is amazing, and these are the talks I'll be hoping to attend. Half of the folks on this list are sitting on my book shelf right now; the other half are people that I've sought out to work with or learn from over the last several years. Of all of them, I think I'm most most excited about Dan Solomon, who wrote one of my all-time most influential books - Global City Blues. You should read it if you haven't.
Man...This is a good list.
It looks like in all they've got about 150 speakers. I don't know how they're going to have time for all of them. But rest assured, I'm going to write about everything; people I meet, talks I hear, EVERYTHING. It's gonna be great.