The Arts Coalition for the Dupont Underground has begun renovating the abandoned streetcar tunnels under Dupont Circle to create a lively new space to showcase arts in the city.
ACDU Founder Julian Hunt and Communications Consultant Braulio Agnese, who are spearheading the process, began their collaboration in 2010 after the city requested proposals to redevelop the space, which has been abandoned since the city stopped using streetcars in the 1960s.
Hunt came to Washington to set up his own architectural practice in 1996 and was inspired to work on the Dupont Circle project after proposing an ultimately unsuccessful redesign of Connecticut Avenue.
“We began to realize that Dupont Circle was a critical public space for the city but terribly underutilized,” Hunt said. “As an architect and a kind of observer of urban conditions I noticed that there were nine entries that bounded the circle that people thought were ventilation shafts but I gradually discovered led down to an enormous abandoned streetcar station. And that was more or less when I began to explore, study, think about and then put together a proposal.”
The financial crisis halted the project, as the project was, and continues to be, funded entirely through donations and private fundraising. However, the group eventually signed a lease and currently are in the early stages of developing the space.
Hunt said projects like the streetcar tunnel renovation are important to developing the culture of the city.
“Washington, D.C., as a city is a city with an emerging identity of its own — distinct from the federal government,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is create a great public space — a place for people to gather in Dupont Circle and in the institution we are creating under it — that adds to the social fluidity of the city.”
Agnese echoed his partner, adding that the new space could showcase other city artists.
“We hope to showcase things from within D.C., the culture that’s produced here, whether that’s art or design. We’d like to be able to partner — D.C. has a number of great small galleries and other collective groups that might benefit from having 15,000 square feet to play with and create something new,” Agnese said.
Both architects said they believe that the project would appeal to students and hopes neighboring university communities get involved.
“We’d love to be able to tap into the knowledge base here in the city — there’s so many universities,” Agnese said. “There are some projects like this in Europe but real estate works in a different model there. We’re hoping to engage the thinkers of tomorrow. We’d like to get people involved in different ways. If people are interested they can reach out to us and let us know how they’d like to contribute their time and talents.”
Art student Emily Smith (COL ’18) said this new space offers another opportunity to explore the arts and other passions.
“I think that it’s a brilliant way of turning something essentially useless and neglected into a place that’s beautiful and well kept by society,” she said. “Whether or not a person thinks art is useful it’s undeniable that the renewal would make the tunnels better than they are now.”