This paper reflects on the possibility of constituting an imaginary museum of the Manhattan Project, the program which lasted from 1942 to 1946 and brought about the development of the first atomic bomb. The compartmentalized organization that General Groves developed to achieve the Manhattan Project’s goal was applied to a wide network of sites across the U.S. Today these sites are varied not only in terms of their legal status, but also in terms of their nature, size, and location, as well as the practices and operations each involved, their relationship to their context, and their degree of accessibility. While some of them are no longer in use and can be freely accessed and explored, others still host fundamental research activities in the scientific and military fields, and these are consequently inaccessible to the generic public. Some of the sites are home to collective assemblies taking place during official ceremonies, while others provide an experience of commemoration that is more intimate and ordinary in nature. From the perspectives of construction and planning, many of these sites correspond to common typologies, such as wooden barracks or campus buildings, but a number of them were born as prototypes that either remained singular or gave birth to new typologies, as is the case, for instance, of the first nuclear reactors at Argonne, Oak Ridge, and Hanford. However, while making such distinctions in terms of program and form is reasonably straightforward in the case of structures or building complexes, categorization is far more challenging when dealing with extensive areas used in the procurement of raw materials, the testing of devices, or the dumping of waste that seem to walk the line between the notions of form and formlessness. These are areas punctuated by or filled with traces—of buildings, of machinery, of infrastructures, of radioactive materials—that, given their sheer size and location, must be understood as constituting an extensive territorial archive, or a museum as evoked by the French architectural theorist and archeologist Antoine-Chrysostome Quatremère de Quincy when he spoke of a “grand muséum qui s’appelle Rome.” Returning to the Manhattan Project’s legacy, what can be imagined as an imaginary grand muséum qui s’appelle le Manhattan Project would be different from Quatremère de Quincy’s institution, for it deals not with artworks and millennial buildings, but with generic warehouses, neoclassical or modern buildings, monumental industrial plants, and large nuclear waste burial mounds. In this peculiar proposal, there would also be a strong connection to landscape and the notions of ruins and the picturesque, but these would be distorted, dystopic, plagued by the “ghosts” of nuclear warfare and millennial radioactive pollution.

An imaginary museum of the Manhattan Project

Ludovico Centis
2022

Abstract

This paper reflects on the possibility of constituting an imaginary museum of the Manhattan Project, the program which lasted from 1942 to 1946 and brought about the development of the first atomic bomb. The compartmentalized organization that General Groves developed to achieve the Manhattan Project’s goal was applied to a wide network of sites across the U.S. Today these sites are varied not only in terms of their legal status, but also in terms of their nature, size, and location, as well as the practices and operations each involved, their relationship to their context, and their degree of accessibility. While some of them are no longer in use and can be freely accessed and explored, others still host fundamental research activities in the scientific and military fields, and these are consequently inaccessible to the generic public. Some of the sites are home to collective assemblies taking place during official ceremonies, while others provide an experience of commemoration that is more intimate and ordinary in nature. From the perspectives of construction and planning, many of these sites correspond to common typologies, such as wooden barracks or campus buildings, but a number of them were born as prototypes that either remained singular or gave birth to new typologies, as is the case, for instance, of the first nuclear reactors at Argonne, Oak Ridge, and Hanford. However, while making such distinctions in terms of program and form is reasonably straightforward in the case of structures or building complexes, categorization is far more challenging when dealing with extensive areas used in the procurement of raw materials, the testing of devices, or the dumping of waste that seem to walk the line between the notions of form and formlessness. These are areas punctuated by or filled with traces—of buildings, of machinery, of infrastructures, of radioactive materials—that, given their sheer size and location, must be understood as constituting an extensive territorial archive, or a museum as evoked by the French architectural theorist and archeologist Antoine-Chrysostome Quatremère de Quincy when he spoke of a “grand muséum qui s’appelle Rome.” Returning to the Manhattan Project’s legacy, what can be imagined as an imaginary grand muséum qui s’appelle le Manhattan Project would be different from Quatremère de Quincy’s institution, for it deals not with artworks and millennial buildings, but with generic warehouses, neoclassical or modern buildings, monumental industrial plants, and large nuclear waste burial mounds. In this peculiar proposal, there would also be a strong connection to landscape and the notions of ruins and the picturesque, but these would be distorted, dystopic, plagued by the “ghosts” of nuclear warfare and millennial radioactive pollution.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11578/320066
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