The Power of Imagined Space

The goal of the Hypothetical Development Organization is simple: take spaces that are underused and in disrepair and envision for them a new, exciting future.  As the name suggests, the designs are entirely hypothetical and focus on what is possible.  Instead of walking by an unused or rundown space with “no discernible future” and being simply reminded of what used to be, citizens get to focus on the potential of reviving “hidden gems of the built environment”.  As their site states:

Unlike a traditional, reality-based developer… our organization is not bound by rules relating to commercial potential, practical materials, or physics. In our view, plausibility is a creative dead end. That is to say: We are not trying to fool anybody.

This project focuses on structures around New Orleans.  Sites have been identified and members of the organization are working on the designs.  The renderings will be printed large scale and placed on the buildings themselves as one proposed future.  The works will be debuting on the streets and eventually in a gallery space starting this December.

The ideas that HDO has come up with are a little tongue-in-cheek: “The Museum of the Self” and “The Rubble Depot” are just two Hypothetical Futures.  They’ve done this to make sure that the project is not misunderstood – to present something too plausible or realistic may run the risk of making people believe that a new development is actually underway.  However, their intention to “inject a bit of intrigue, engagement, and pleasure into a corner of the built environment that’s otherwise overlooked” will no doubt be realized.

The concept of imagined space got me thinking about its use in all cities, including Regina.  There are a lot of places that we forget exist simply due to their lack of use.  These spaces fade into the background and after awhile we simply do not see them…they become the proverbial dust bunnies of the urban landscape.  But it’s important to note that these spaces don’t go unnoticed because they aren’t visually appealing or have no potential, they just sit too long.

This is not only the case for buildings – green spaces and public squares can also suffer from under-use and become black holes that take more away from a community than they contribute.  While initially hypothetical, the act of re-visioning a space and drawing attention to an under-utilized building can be a powerful tool for actual change as well.  By taking a moment to acknowledge what could be, we can start to dream and manifest what should be. We give the previously anonymous a name and a purpose.  The building then is not just filling space, but ideally adding vibrancy and life to the area.  In this way, the intention is revitalized along with the space itself.

The beauty of the HDO project is that the creativity of what is possible comes first – something that I think would be a useful model for actual design and development.  Typically a developer purchases a space because they know what they want to do with it – they’ve already charted the use, commercial viability, land value, and future growth before the design, massing, and build outs are even considered – the aesthetic value of the space must conform to what has been established.  But this makes one wonder if design as the afterthought is the reason we end up with generic and uninspired spaces.

What if we took a note from the limitless creativity of HDO?  What if designers and creatives were allowed to vision a space before the use was entirely established?  The primary focus would be to see the space for what it was and come up with as many bold and vibrant ideas as possible.  Instead of starting with pragmatic limitations and trying to get the creative juices flowing, it could be more fruitful to start with design and innovation and then find ways to make it work.  In this way, even if some elements are removed for realistic reasons, the overall integrity of the vision could be maintained.

I have included photos of two great spaces in Regina’s Heritage neighbourhood that are currently underused.  Do you have a favourite underused space in Regina?  Have you ever dreamed of what would ideally grace its structure or take it’s place?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

** top image via Hypothetical Development Organization; photos of Regina buildings via this flickr site (all credit and copyright belongs to the respective sources)

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The Power of Imagined Space

One thought on “The Power of Imagined Space

  1. wourliem says:

    Hey Laura,

    You post is timely, I have been thinking about imagined spaces lately. I want to see images of possible cities, like Fort Qu’appelle now, if they acquired the railroad in the 1880’s. Buildings planned but never built fitted into the current built environment.

    I really appreciate your words about the invisible “dust bunnies” of the city. Your Halifax St. examples are so accurate, they never registered with me until recently when I have been spending more time in Heritage.

    Another example that interests me is 2439 Wallace Street Regina.

    I am not sure what the building was before, a grocery perhaps. I imagine it as a daycare, a coffee shop, a playhouse, meeting room or a depanneur. I think zoning issues might limit this space, including minimum parking requirements. In the spirit of HDO, however, such a different building provides a great opportunity for imagination.

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