hypothethical signs – mammoth // building nothing out of something

hypothethical signs

[An image from Mehmet Ali Gökçeoğlu’s mayoral campaign.]

This past summer on Places, Rob Walker, one of the artists behind the “Hypothetical Development Organization”, penned a brief history of architecture fiction and discussed the even-briefer history of that organization.  (The Hypothetical Development Organization was, if you are unfamiliar with it, a brief initiative which produced “hypothetical futures” for each of ten selected sites in New Orleans, with the proposals unbound “by rules relating to commercial potential, practical materials, or physics”.)  My favorite thing that Walker does in the essay is tracing the essential vein of weirdness that links the fiction produced by the Hypothetical Development Organization to the ordinary and common development signs that inspired the project:

“One day I went for a routine walk. My wife and I live in Savannah, GA, in an area that’s mostly residential, but interspersed with commercial and public buildings. It’s a nice stroll to an excellent bakery, my bank, a convenience store, the main branch of the public library.

Our neighborhood is the sort that people describe as “transitional,” and some of the property, both residential and commercial, is vacant. On one nearby commercial structure, vacant for the four-plus years we’ve lived in the area, I noticed a sign during this particular walk. You’ve seen similar signs, and I’d seen this one probably a hundred times, without ever really thinking about it. It was a rendering of a development, a future, involving a small, empty building. It suddenly struck me that, given how long this sign has been here, what it depicted was, at best, a hypothetical future — and arguably a fictitious one.

Since whenever this sign was first posted, the real estate market has collapsed, the old go-go economy has evaporated, and as it happens this building has been put up for sale. Any development that may take place some day would depend on someone buying it, and on what that party might want to do. Until then, it’s just another empty building that happens to have a sign on it. The disparity between the rendering and reality is considerable: In the rendering, in fact, the actual extant structure has been folded into a much bigger building, which in point of fact exists nowhere besides that rendering. In real life, it’s a vacant lot.

It further struck me that there are vacant buildings much like this one, with no definitive future, all over town — all over lots of towns. In a sense, then, our city streets are full of fiction, or something very much like it. The stories, mostly visual, are told in the form of colorful signs attached to drab or neglected structures, presenting speculations about how the very same physical place might look in some unspecified future. The abandoned office tower could house airy condos. The long-shuttered auto shop might morph into a gleaming boutique. The factory built for some bankrupt enterprise will, perhaps, burst with life again, its cheery mixed uses enjoyed by stock-image people representing a cross-section of pleasant citizenry. Sometimes these ideas are punctuated by the name of a development company and its Web address. But the story flows mostly from the beguiling picture, showing what could hypothetically happen, right here.”

This seems both fantastic — recognizing the strangeness of ordinary things examined closely — and exactly right to me — recognizing the fundamental similarity in genre between Archigram and Forest City, regardless of the massive differences in how they work within that genre.

It also reminds me of the story of the Turkish real estate agent Mehmet Ali Gökçeoğlu, who we read about in Emre Alturk’s contribution to Al Manakh 2, “Dubai, Copied and Pasted”.  You might say that, like Walker, Gökçeoğlu recognized something of the unrealized potential of the development sign as a fiction.  And, also like the story of the Hypothetical Development Organization, Gökçeoğlu’s story indicates the power of telling stories not as “a series of words”, but through “plans, schematics, models, renderings”.

Unlike Walker, though, Gökçeoğlu was not satisfied to let his pictures simply tell a story.  He ran for office on them:

“In January 2009, Mehmet Ali Gökçeoğlu, a local real estate agent running for mayor of Cesme, Turkey, publicized his campaign throughout the town in billboards and pamphlets.  His vision for the future of this Izmir borough was to make it the Dubai of Turkey, literally.  The imagery he deployed constituted aerial pictures of this touristic peninsula, fashioned with many projects previously proposed for Dubai including; an identical replica of the Palm Island, along with a tower of independently rotating floors to be the tallest in the world; a yacht marina, similarly to be the largest in the world; and an UFO shaped restaurant hovering meters above the ground.  It wasn’t long before the ‘most eccentric campaign of the elections’, as it was called by the media, made it to the national newspapers accompanied with snide remarks.  The imagery of the campaign circulated via email for weeks.  Eventually Gökçeoğlu wasn’t even close to securing the candidate post in his party — the ruling Justice and Development Party.  Enjoying a brief media attention, the campaign lived a short life in the absence of an endorsing sheik, money, public support, legislative basis and tax policies to attract desired foreign investment, or any substantial program for that matter.

There is hardly much to take seriously about the campaign.  But, wildly unfounded as it is, it does bring two things to mind.  First of all, it is striking that it caught a wide public attention at all.  Gökçeoğlu’s vision would have hardly found any audience beyond the small crowd that he is probably able to gather in a political rally, if it weren’t for the images.  It took him a — probably cracked — copy of Photoshop, some images pulled off the net, some hours of labor, and a modest capital to render this speculative agenda visible and palpable, thus mobilizing more attention and reaction…”

[Also on Places, the second installment in Mimi Zeiger’s “The Interventionist’s Toolkit” looked at the Hypothetical Development Organization as one of a series of “posters, pamphlets, and guides” occupying one niche in the world of “Provisional, Opportunistic, Ubiquitous, and Odd Tactics in Guerilla and DIY Practice and Urbanism”.  (This niche is not unrelated to the nascent genre of the urban field manual.)  In BLDGBLOG post entitled “Urban Hypotheticals”, Geoff Manaugh both describes the Hypothetical Development Organization and discusses more generally the potential uses and abuses of such speculative architectural projects.]

One Response to “hypothethical signs”

  1. […] Areas” strike me as particularly interesting in light of my post from last week on “hypothetical signs”, as, like both the Hypothetical Development Organization and Gökçeoğlu’s mayoral campaign, […]