The War and the Community: The Birth and Rise of the Secret Town for Atomic Bomb Development during the Second World War

Thursday, January 5, 2012: 3:00 PM
Chicago Ballroom C (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Hyun-Tae Jung, Lehigh University
This paper concentrates on the early, yet critical development of the quintessential firm in post-war American architecture, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), in particular the firm’s activities from 1939 to 1946.  Established in 1936 in Chicago by Louis Skidmore and Nathaniel A. Owings, SOM grew from a small design firm to a large-scale corporate architecture-engineering firm through its wartime projects.  Dealing with the early history of SOM, the paper analyzes the firm’s expansion and success.  Central to this success was SOM’s work with the John B. Pierce Foundation on the advancement and realization of a prefabricated house, which was followed by the construction of thousands of houses.  

First collaborating with the Pierce Foundation on a small experimental house in New Jersey, SOM went to on explore large-scale, highly rationalized construction in two major commissions.  At Middle River, Maryland (1941-42), SOM built 600 houses based on the experimental house prototype.  The housing project gave the firm the opportunity to test and apply their investigations into the use of space in the domestic environment and into rationalizing the prefabrication process.

At Oak Ridge, Tennessee (1943-46), built as a part of the Manhattan Project, SOM initially designed and supervised the construction of thousands of houses based on five types and later expanded its boundaries to include diverse buildings such as a church, schools, hospitals and shopping malls.  Its mastery of advanced technology in prefabrication and experience with numerous building types enabled the firm to provide fast-track economical construction and to efficiently manage its labor force.  

Based on the primary textual and visual materials of SOM, the Pierce Foundation, and the Manhattan Engineers District, this paper discusses how the city of Oak Ridge was developed during and after the Second World War. It also discusses how the firm advanced organizationally.