People, SOM in the Press

See the Top-Secret Suburbs that Built America’s Nuclear Weapons

Photo © Torkel Korling

Source: Fast Co.

In 1942, a secret city was born. Nestled in a valley in eastern Tennessee, the city–today known as Oak Ridge–would become the birthplace of the most dangerous weapon humanity ever created. But Oak Ridge isn’t just a glorified military base, built in the midst of World War II to prepare the U.S. to defend its interest. It was also a marvel of architecture, urban design, and planning, a community built to attract the greatest scientific minds of the generation to rural Tennessee to work for the government.

A new exhibition at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., explores the history of Oak Ridge and its sister “secret cities,” Los Alamos in New Mexico and Richland in Washington State... 

...Oak Ridge is the most significant–at least partially because its design, planning, and construction were undertaken by the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill starting in late 1942. At the time, thousands of workers and scientists poured into the area to man the giant industrial buildings that were put up seemingly overnight. Housing had to be built quickly to accommodate the people who would over the next two and a half years build atomic weapons. But while the primary goal was to build cities from scratch in a remarkably short period of time, the architects had another conflicting task: The Manhattan Project’s leader, J. Robert Oppenheimer, wanted SOM to make the houses livable enough to convince academics who wanted a cushy, suburban lifestyle that they should come work for the government.

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