How coincidental that the National Building Museum was hosting an exhibit on the architecture and planning of The Manhattan Project.

The exhibit intro focused on some of the planned communities that had been considered models for the “Clinton Engineer Works,” including that of Riverside, Illinois, the first planned community in America (1869).

And a cluster plan for a, “Slumless and Smokeless” development. Yikes. Glad that didn’t happen.

What happened instead were modest homes and dormitories.

Unless you were African-American, in which case you were housed by gender (even if married) in “Hutments.”  More yikes.

There were segregated toilets, too.

So why the name, Manhattan Project?  Because it began at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Broadway office in Manhattan. Now the building is a mix of commercial and residential.

To procure the land the government simply issued eviction notices. The Oak Ridge campus was the largest of the three secret cities built (Los Alamos, NM and Hanford, Washington being the other two), reaching a population of 75,000.

Single, young women were heavily recruited to work at Oak Ridge in a number of capacities. The book, The Girls of Atomic City compiles a number of women’s stories into compelling reading.

Of course, none of the work that went on at Oak Ridge would have been possible without the effort of Austrian-born Lise Meitner, who fled Nazi-controlled Germany in 1939 and would only be rewarded late in her life.

Life in Oak Ridge was necessarily secretive, though not necessarily dull.

Security was intense. No one, not even Santa Claus, was above scrutiny.

The remainder of the exhibit focused on life at Los Alamos and Hanford. At the former, the ruse of giving everyone the exact same mailing address proved a wee bit problematic when clerks at Sears Roebuck & Co. became suspicious after receiving orders for 12 bassinets to be sent to the same address!

Thoroughly well done, the exhibition integrated how these secret cities built for the Manhattan Project served as proving grounds for emerging ideas about buildings and communities in post-war America.