“I dislike it when design tries to force you to do things you may not want to do,” says Julian Hunt. We’ve just dashed across Connecticut Avenue to a dismal parklet. There’s a statue of someone or another, a reclining person with the world’s most gigantic case of plumber’s butt, and some lunching folks.
Along with some others, and his partner at Hunt Laudi Studio (who happens to be his wife, Lucrecia Laudi), came up with a plan for Connecticut Avenue NW. This was less “provocative and insulting” than their tongue-in-cheek plan to redesign the White House, which they entered in a whimsical contest put on by the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York.
Hunt Laudi’s plan involved allowing the executive office buildings to creep into the Mall, much the way executive power crept forward during the Bush years. The World War II Memorial, hated by so many critics (“Europe’s fascist leaders could not have found a thing in it to take exception to,” said the Post‘s Blake Gopnik in one memorable essay), would be demolished and a speaker’s corner would be set up there. There would also be a beer garden. Hunt loves places to get beer in a city. He hates the beer kiosk at the Constitution Garden Pool, however: the beer costs too much, there’s no place to sit down, and the kiosk is “dopey.”
(Speaking of dopey, how about this park, dedicated to some poor soul named Witherspoon, and totally unusable:
Where the architectural debate in D.C. could be, according to Hunt, is how we use the city. How the neighborhoods connect to one another. Where it is, he says, is piddling disputes about historical preservation, about whether windows should be six panels over six.
Take this park. It’s an island. Hunt would like to turn it into a peninsula. “Good urban design understand the instinct that reads empty social space,” he says. When Barcelona opened up its parks into plazas, people filled them without being directed. You could put cobbles on the street between the park and the sidewalk. Move the sidewalks in and direct that square footage to the median, where you could create a pedestrian walkway down the middle of Connecticut, like Barcelona’s Las Ramblas. That would connect Dupont Circle to downtown and Adams Morgan.
This is, of course, practically impossible. The traffic tunnel under Dupont (the “Dupont traffic pit” in Hunt-speak) is federal highway, DDOT told Hunt. So Hunt’s dreams for Dupont—-a bar here, where now there’s just a scourge of concrete, a farmer’s market on a deck built over the traffic pit on the north side of the circle—-would take a mind-blowing effort to even get considered.
And the traffic engineers. Oy, the traffic engineers. Hunt suggests I read about Hans Monderman, the Dutch traffic-engineering apostate, who suggested getting rid of most signage and not overdirecting traffic. (Crossing over to Dupont Circle itself is an excellent time to bring up simplifying traffic patterns, by the way.) In the Hunt Laudi plan, the circle would be cobblestoned, and you could close it sometimes as a pedestrian area, expanding the park.
Now the park is OK, but it’s not what it could be. Look behind the benches—-what’s that strip of green for? You can’t get there. It’s hard to use. This area could have a “multiplying effect,” Hunt says, helping bring the neighborhoods together. But it’s just not connected to any other spaces.
Across from the circle is a large concrete rectangle with mesh on the top. This is the entrance, Hunt says, to a disused trolley station. He’s been down there and taken some photos. He’d love to get it used as a place for lectures and exhibitions. There’ve been a lot of ideas for those tunnels. Nothing’s happened. If anyone reading this ever gets down there, automatic CP cover story. Call me.