Martin Moeller is the Senior Curator at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., where the exhibition “Secret Cities: The Architecture and Planning of the Manhattan Project” opened in 2018. In this interview, Moeller describes the history behind the exhibition and its key themes. He focuses in particular on the role of the firm of Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill in designing Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He also discusses how segregation was built into the Manhattan Project’s secret cities and the Manhattan Project’s legacies for American architecture.
Leroy Jackson and Ernest Wende were transferred into the Manhattan District, the branch of the United States Army Corps of Engineers tasked with overseeing the construction of critical Manhattan Project sites, shortly after its formation in 1942. They both lived and worked at Oak Ridge during the war and were closely involved in the design and construction of the site’s thousands of residential units and cafeterias and recreational facilities, as well as the Y-12 and K-25 Plants and the X-10 Graphite Reactor. Their work required close coordination with private architectural and engineering firms, like Stone & Webster and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. They discuss the power structure of Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project, the restrictions imposed on Oak Ridge residents for the maintenance of secrecy, and the compartmentalization of building projects. They also explain the challenges of life in Oak Ridge and how the government had to step in to provide maintenance and services.