Sick Architecture - Maxwell Smith-Holmes - Toxic Workplaces, Nuclear Homes, and Irradiated Landscapes

Toxic Workplaces, Nuclear Homes, and Irradiated Landscapes

Maxwell Smith-Holmes

Photograph by Robert Del Tredici of a safety sign at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, 1993. Courtesy of Robert Del Tredici/the Atomic Photographers Guild.

Sick Architecture
May 2022

On October 1, 1998, subcontractors with the US Department of Energy set up a “situation room” in downtown Richland, Washington, to monitor a mysterious breach at the Hanford Nuclear Reserve.1 The incident began when health monitors recorded a bizarre spattering of the radioactive isotope, strontium-90, in a mobile office trailer. Geiger counts shot up near a light switch, a piece of silverware, and a cutting board. Further investigation turned up “specks” of radiation darting through the air. Then, contamination seeped beyond the trailer: first in spit out chewing tobacco, then on a worker’s dirty laundry, and eventually inside homes and garbage bins up to eighty miles from the nuclear facility. Three weeks later, officials determined that toxic material had spread after fruit flies laid eggs in concrete vats of nuclear waste. When the eggs hatched, swarms of irradiated flies found their way into the food and clothing of plant personnel, who then carried traces of radiation back home.2

Radioactive isotopes leaked out of the plutonium plant’s policed borders and segregated waste management systems through the bodies of entomological hosts that flew over fences, burrowed in garbage, and nested in human homes. The public-private cleanup effort that followed the incident deployed insecticide “spot treatments” at contaminated sites throughout the region, installed a tent-like physical barrier around waste pits where flies might have laid their eggs, and enclosed the nuclear complex within a “2.5 hectare (6.2–acre) radiological buffer area (RBA).”3 The contamination was considered neutralized only after 106 workers’ urine and feces tested negative for bioaccumulated radiation and 210 tons of garbage were moved from the municipal dump to “low-level burial grounds” at the nuclear compound.4

Robert Del Tredici, Madonna of the Glove Box, 1993. Courtesy of Robert Del Tredici/the Atomic Photographers Guild.

The official response to the spread of radioisotopes throughout the Columbia River Basin emphasized the breakdown of a supposedly healthy distribution of chemicals across a regional topography of militarized borders. Substances containing unstable nuclei became toxic only once they leached into adjacent spaces and spilled over thresholds.5 In internal communications between management and workers at the nuclear facility, toxic exposure was cast as a product of the nuclear facility’s physical borders rather than a threat to human or ecological health. In an October 12 memo titled “CONTAMINATION SPREAD QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS,” management attempted to allay workers’ concerns by explaining that “[any] contamination outside of a control zone is of concern because it isn’t supposed to happen… any contamination outside of controlled radiation areas is unacceptable.”6 Workers were advised that direct contact with strontium-90 at levels present in the fruit flies amounts to the same level of radiation as a dental X-ray. To stay safe, one only needed to “carry their food in closed containers,” and “not leave fruit, cookies, or other unwrapped food out in bowls or on tables.”7

For government contractors, the flies themselves were less alarming than the way they breached the border between contaminated and uncontaminated zones, and in the process raised doubt about the efficacy of borders as such. The entire incident illustrates toxicity’s troubling relationship to space: contaminants evade enclosure by leaching through air, water, soil, plants, and animals, ricocheting through the environment for millennia. The toxic artifacts left behind by twentieth century nuclear industry exhibit a grim epistemological and spatial indeterminacy that static architectural forms simply cannot contain.8 Chemical residues inhabit mobile and unpredictable geometries that inevitably undermine Modernist principles of formal autonomy and rationality. By materially and discursively delimiting the edges between exposure and safety, toxicity graduates different conditions for different lives all inhabiting a shared planet. As a technique for shaping the conditions of living beings, toxicity operates as an architectural analog to Judith Butler’s notion of photographic “frames” as devices that “not only organize visual experience but also generate specific ontologies of the subject.”9

The lasting impacts of mid-twentieth century nuclear production highlight how toxicity has selectively concentrated injury on vulnerable landscapes and their inhabitants. Some of the most infamous episodes of toxic architecture occurred at the “Nuclear Reservations” established by the Manhattan Engineering District (MED), commonly known as the Manhattan Project, the top-secret World War II program to rapidly develop an atomic bomb for the United States. At these sites, architecture became imbricated with toxic containment through four distinct scales: the factory, the town, the home, and finally, the human body.

Map of the US showing key Manhattan Project sites. Source: National Archives and Records Administration.


In 1942, General Leslie R. Groves was put in charge of building out the Manhattan Project after having successfully managed the design and construction of the Pentagon building.10 Groves’ highest concern was “security,” which he understood as rigorously controlling information about the bomb-making program. In a particularly illuminating instance, Groves rejected his predecessor’s name for the MED, the “Department of Substitute Metals,” because he worried it stood out among the Army Corps’s various divisions and “would arouse the curiosity of all who heard it.” Instead, Groves opted for the misleading geographic designation, “Manhattan Engineering District,” which sounded just like any other of the Corps’ engineering districts.11 Even before the government recognized that toxicity might ooze past the militarized borders of the Manhattan Engineering District, Groves instituted discursive formations that sought to contain nuclear chemicals, controlling information rather than contaminated matter.

At the center of these efforts were the three Nuclear Reservations established within the United States for manufacturing atomic bombs—including the two ultimately dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki—at Los Alamos, New Mexico; Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and Hanford, Washington. In constructing the reservations, wartime secrecy dictated that the USACE evict existing residents and build new cities for the MED’s employees. While the Oak Ridge, Tennessee reservation, designed by Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill under contract by Monsanto, is the most well-known of the Manhattan Project’s instant-built cities, the Hanford, Washington site is currently the most contaminated place in the United States, “laced with more than 450 billion gallons of liquid nuclear waste.” According to the geographer Shannon Cram, “Under the direction of the US Department of Energy (DOE), Hanford is currently engaged in the largest and most expensive environmental remediation project in human history.”12

Hanford was chosen as a plutonium production facility because Army Corps generals and DuPont de Nemours & Company, the private firm contracted to operate the plant, viewed the area as a pre-existing “waste land” with access to abundant hydro-electric power. Of course, Hanford was not a “waste land,” and contrary to one general’s contention that Hanford was “an area with almost no people, very undeveloped,” people lived there.13 Among the indigenous communities living or frequently traveling within the 586 square miles of the Hanford nuclear reservation were the Yakama, Nez Perce, Umatilla, and Wanapum people.14 And in 1903, in order to provide irrigation to an influx of settler farmers in the Columbia Basin, the Hanford Power and Irrigation Company established a company town later advertised as a curative landscape for individuals suffering from poor health.15

Johnnie Buck (left) and Frank Matthias (right) in Priest Valley, 1943. Reproduced in Timothy Joseph, Historic Photos of the Manhattan Project (Nasvhille: Turner Pub. Co., 2009), 66.

A photograph from 1944 shows the Wanapum leader Johnnie Buck shaking hands with Frank Matthias, the Army Corps general who oversaw the day-to-day construction of the Hanford site. The subjects’ strange comportments point towards the exclusionary logics of military-industrial containment cutting across the landscape just beyond the photograph’s frame. On the left, Buck and his associate stare straight at the camera while wearing traditional clothing, while on the right, Matthias and his lieutenant stand in profile in crisp army uniforms. The photograph was taken to commemorate Matthias’s supposed generosity in allowing the Wanapum to continue fishing in the Columbia River after the area had been fenced off from the public to promote secrecy. The two Wanapum men’s glares confront the camera, seemingly acknowledging the staged photograph’s gambit as visual evidence that the Army Corp’s presence at Hanford was consensual. After the bomb fell on Nagasaki in 1945, the government revoked the Wanapam’s right to fish in the Columbia, statedly for reasons of national security.16

Techniques of spatial distribution employed at Hanford are homologous with the familiar tools used by militaristic settler states to dislocate Indigenous communities and compartmentalize their traditional ways of inhabiting and cultivating the land. Dorceta Taylor refers to this violence as “internal colonialism,” a staple of which is the military’s involvement in concentrating toxic living conditions in areas inhabited by Indigenous, racialized, or otherwise vulnerable populations.17 Without glossing over the specific form of settler colonialism enacted against Indigenous populations in the American West, “internal colonialism” links military-industrial frames of toxic containment with histories of dispossession, removal, and genocide inscribed on the landscape. The spatial and discursive protocols for distributing chemical harm in the aftermath of the MED rehearse familiar techniques of settler colonial violence through the differential positioning of bodies in relation to multi-millennial radioactive residues.

Hanford Map, 1943. Source: Hanford Engineer Works/United States Department of Energy.


Despite radioactivity’s incommensurability with spatial enclosure, the Army Corps and its private contractors sought to contain fallout through discrete interventions in the built environment. Fresh off the success of the Pentagon, Groves wanted to replicate its fortress-like layout at Hanford. The Pentagon parti involved an impenetrable and disorienting facade to obscure the building’s internal organization, itself comprised of a repeating series of enclosures laid out like a bullseye. The Hanford nuclear reservation was similarly designed with the most secretive plutonium production installations located in the center of a two-hundred-square-mile cordoned-off “sanctum.” Beyond this secretive core, the reservation included another seven-hundred-square-mile zone of accommodations for workers and their families.18

The complex began operating in the Fall of 1944. The original USACE plan called for three river-cooled nuclear reactors designated by the letters B, D, and F in the “100 Area,” a pair of chemical separation plants designated “200W” and “200E,” and a fuel fabrication facility in the “300 Area.” The production line started at the southeast corner of the central manufacturing sector in the 300 Area, where uranium mined from the Shinkolobwe Mine in Belgian Congo was processed into fuel rods.19 These rods were then transported to the 100 Area, where engineers used nuclear reactors to induce fission, transforming uranium rods into plutonium slugs. After cooling in a pool that drained into the Columbia River—causing parts of the river to become toxic—the plutonium slugs were brought to the 200 Area, where the material was concentrated and eventually shipped to Los Alamos, New Mexico for assembly.20

Maintaining a tight grip on the flow of information went together with increasing efficiency on the production line. When entry-level technical employees started at Hanford, they were informed of their tasks but not told why, or how their work meshed with other production processes. Details about health risks associated with their jobs were also omitted. Workers were required to keep details of their work secret from one another, only sharing the minimum information required to maintain productivity quotas. And wherever feasible, physical enclosures separated workers by task, compartmentalizing the assembly line’s distinct functions.21

Both within each sub-facility and across the entire campus, architecture coincided with a gradient of risk that exposed women and less educated workers to higher levels of radiation. DuPont initially refused to hire female plant operators because of concerns about the effects of radiation on childbearing, tacitly acknowledging the plant’s dangers. However, such reservations were animated more by ideology than a genuine concern for women’s health.22 Labor shortages in 1944 led DuPont to begin hiring women to work in the 300 section producing uranium slugs, where they were advised not to wear protective gloves to maintain fast hand movement. Former 300 Area workers commonly suffer illnesses related to uranium exposure including cancer, heart disease, and numerous mysterious undiagnosable ailments.23

Hanford Camp map. Source: Hanford Engineer Works, “Here’s Hanford” (Hanford Engineer Works, 1944), Hagley Library and Archives.


Between 1943 and 1945, Hanford required between 94,000 and 132,000 construction workers, many more than the local population was able to supply.24 The masses of itinerant workers brought in were housed in Hanford Camp, a temporary settlement limited to unmarried men. To maintain secrecy, the camp was subdivided into gated zones, with workers only permitted access to their assigned section.25 The camp’s disciplinary spatial division was complemented by its police force regularly interviewing inhabitants to screen for communist sympathies or potential espionage.26 Only in 1944, and under pressure from the Fair Employment Practices Commission, DuPont began hiring black construction workers, who were housed inside a separate fenced division that contained smaller barracks and fewer amenities than white workers’ residential districts.27 As the historian Kate Brown has argued, systematic racial segregation was transplanted onto the site by USACE generals who believed limiting the rights of black workers was necessary to ensure the morale of the white workforce.28

Camp Hanford was a hotbed for depression, alcoholism, and violence. The settlement had become a toxic workplace, not only in the sense of occupational health hazards, but also by eroding the everyday wellbeing of its employees.29 In response, DuPont sought an entirely different situation in its design for a town housing mostly permanent technicians and their families.30 DuPont was familiar with operating company towns, and its executives viewed the Hanford contract as an opportunity to build a model settlement that would promote the company’s conservative ideology.31

To design Richland Village, military generals and DuPont executives selected the lowest bidding local architect, G. Albin Pehrson, whose proposal engendered a middle ground between the military’s spartan vision and DuPont’s middle-class tastes. Pehrson researched the area to determine its necessary facilities, devising precise figures for the appropriate number of hair salons, funeral parlors, restaurants, hardware stores, and other suburban necessities in order to propose a prototypical American town that embodied a meritocratic version of American society in which social classes derived from “surmountable disparities of achievement.”32 To this end, Pehrson designed homes for the highest-ranking officials along bluffs overlooking the winding Columbia River. There was a downtown designed as a shopping loop, intersected by streets leading to clusters of housing, and even specified bus routes transporting workers from Hanford to the village’s various strips of housing.33


Pehrson designed a set number of housing types, each with a letter designation just like the plutonium installations. All the home types mediated wartime austerity with suburban comfort through utilitarian layouts situated on neat yards. The most elaborate homes reserved for top brass military families or DuPont managers were styled after familiar forms of American domestic architecture. The small two-bedroom “B” duplex resembled a ranch house, and the “D” unit was modeled on a “Cape Cod.”34 Less distinct homes such as A, H, and L might be seen as various permutations on the same rectangular plan. The array of letter home plans aligns with Pehrson’s philosophy that architecture should reflect class distinctions as an incentive for social mobility.

The architecture of Richland Village promoted the virtues of hard work, citizenship, and family values as levers for gaining and visibly manifesting material improvements in one’s life. In terms of day-to-day life for the inhabitants, military-industrial efficiency ended up impinging on domestic comfort. Limited housing types allowed the military to rapidly deploy domestic space and facilitate the wartime bomb effort, but such economy resulted in visual monotony, poor material specifications, and unreliable shelter from the elements. Officially, Richland Village’s homes and other installations were never intended as permanent constructions. Indeed, many of the structures were prefabricated units trucked into place. However, DuPont’s executives always intended to keep Hanford running after the war.35 This veil of impermanence allowed DuPont and the US Government flexibility as the risks of environmental contamination slowly came into public view.

Three types of body dosimeters. Source: R. H. Wilson, Historical Review of Personnel Dosimetry Development and Its Use in Radiation Protection Programs at Hanford: 1944 to the 1980s (Richland: Pacific Northwest Laboratory, February 1987).


In 1942, the MED incorporated a new Medical Section led by a doctor from the Eastman company in Rochester, who understood industrial medicine as a tool for improving bottom lines. Reporting to military generals, the Medical Section helped mitigate security leaks and negative press coverage by monitoring the health of workers and their communities, as well as the quality of the environment around MED facilities.36 The Medical Section made good on both the military’s need for secrecy and DuPont’s drive for efficiency by narrowly defining illness by its most severe and immediately onset cases. This “medico-legal” criteria for workplace injury failed to account for the slow violence of toxic waste, let alone the durational build-up of radioactive isotopes inside human bodies that manifest random, unpredictable symptoms.37 By only acknowledging the very worst and imminently diagnosable cases of radiation poisoning, the Medical Section redrew the border between humans and toxicity, effectively transposing the plutonium plant’s walls of secrecy onto the body.

Two models of the radiosensitive Hanford security badge and a diagram of their assembly. Source: R. H. Wilson, Historical Review of Personnel Dosimetry Development and Its Use in Radiation Protection Programs at Hanford: 1944 to the 1980s (Richland: Pacific Northwest Laboratory, February 1987).

Beginning in 1944, workers at Hanford were required to wear employee identification badges that doubled as personal radiation dosimeters. Each badge displayed an employee’s photograph, their security credential, and payroll number on a printed card above a ten-layered stack of radiation-sensitive film, all encased in a clip-on plastic box. Once a week, the badges’ film sheets were submitted to the Medical Section and “developed” to reveal any signs of elevated radiation. Hanford’s employee badges allowed the Medical Section to measure workers’ individual levels of exposure against a rubric of permissible risk.38

The “adult male” phantom and “representation of a human torso used to model radiation doses.” Source: M. Cristy and K.F. Eckerman, Specific Absorbed Fractions of Energy at Various Ages from Internal Photon Sources (Oak Ridge: Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 1987).

Just as architectural modernism looked to an ideal human figure for a system of social organization, the nuclear age sought its own universal human as a model for life on a toxic planet.39 The International Commission on Radiation Protection’s “Reference Man” was a set of anatomical statistics that represent a supposedly universal human body.40 As the mathematical approximation of a settler human, Reference Man corresponds to a normative range of physiological and cultural functions that would be safe in a remediated post-nuclear environment. Reference Man represents standardized biophysical constructions of human organs as well as models for the kinds and quantities of food people eat, their bodily excretions, how they exercise, the volume of air they breathe, and other anthropological features of how people physiologically interact with their environment.41 These standards imply a mode of inhabiting earth modeled on a healthy, young, white, male, and sedentary body.

Reference Man’s narrow exclusionary model of humanness rehearses the violent separation of Indigenous communities from their ancestral land. The Yakama Nation, Nez Perce Tribe, and the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) have rejected their assimilation into these statistical humanoids living suburban lifestyles completely disconnected from the landscape. In 2008, in response to the CTUIR’s Department of Science and Engineering’s proposals of alternative physiological benchmarks informed by the tribes’ lived experiences, the US Department of Energy and EPA insisted that legislating Hanford’s remediation based on Native American bodies and cultures would be biologically “impossible.”42

Food Pathways for intake of Radionuclides. Source: R. H. Wilson,“Historical Review of Personnel Dosimetry Development and Its Use in Radiation Protection Programs at Hanford: 1944 to the 1980s (Richland: Pacific Northwest Laboratory, February 1987).


The four components of Hanford’s built environment—factory, town, home, and human—each present different scales of toxic containment. Yet, the various techniques to protect against contamination were compromised in early December 1949 when the Air Force and Hanford health physicists purposefully released a ton of radioactive “green fuel” into the skies above the Columbia Basin. The operation was designed to test a new type of nuclear surveillance by measuring concentrations of fission products in the atmosphere. Without warning, communities up to two hundred miles away were exposed to radioactive iodine-131.43 Toxic particulate ended up in air, waterways, and soil, and in the tissue of plants and animals where it eventually bioaccumulated, ricocheting through ecosystems. Concentrations of radioactive iodine-131 have been known to cause virulent thyroid cancer, one of the illnesses most prevalent in the communities near Hanford.44

Because of the extreme timeframe required for radionuclides to decay into less harmful substances, the toxic effects of the green fuel experiment will be felt for millennia. Wartime containment efforts at targeting information and the distribution of workers’ bodies were not calibrated to the diffuse and durational character of chemical pollution. As a result, toxicity has come to saturate the environment, and containment a new meaning. As threats shifted from an enemy military to the environment itself, Hanford’s techniques of spatial control were repackaged as a stopgap measure against a more abstract danger emanating from nonhuman nature. There are accounts that health technicians employed coyotes, “highly territorial creatures,” to determine the distribution of radio-isotopes in the landscape. As if following Vitruvius’s suggestion to dissect the livers of animals living around potential building sites to test for its suitability, coyotes at Hanford were regularly shot and their thyroids cut open to test for radiation.45

Michael Brill and Safdar Abidi, Landscape of Thorns, 1992. Source: Kathleen M. Trauth, et al., Expert Judgement on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (Albuquerque: US Department of Energy, 1993).


Remediation is a mode of containment that casts landscape as both cure and disease: it presumes a landscape that is too polluted and dangerous for human habitation, but also that it can be cured, through more wilderness, more vegetation, more ecological activity. In 2000, President Bill Clinton created the Hanford Reach Monument as a national wildlife refuge. This new classification for the site means that people cannot legally live there. Paradoxically, this also means that a higher level of contamination is allowed because it is zoned for ecology rather than human life.46

Hanford has been depopulated through its designation as a wildlife refuge, but its remediation must continue for thousands of years, a timeframe outlasting any reliable predictions of the future. Beginning in the 1980s, the US Government has conducted research in the field of nuclear semiotics to develop means of warning future humans about the dangers of toxic environments. Because future societies may have lost touch with language and history, these warning markers attempt to communicate pre-linguistically to an imagined humanoid species with only elemental cognitive capacities. For example, a proposal by architects Safdar Abidi and Michael Brill cited within a US Department of Energy report for a field of spikes atop buried nuclear waste is premised on the idea that such a disturbing landscape would forebode danger to any sentient creature. Another proposal for a system of nuclear semiotics published by the Sandia National Laboratory in 1996 illustrates multiple permutations on the spike field, including a version in which spikes mark each of the world’s radioactive burial sites by puncturing through a giant map of the earth.

A 1984 report on a future warning system for the Hanford site imagines a perimeter of obelisks indicating the locations of buried waste and the hazards of eating vegetation growing on the site. In the sequence of inscriptions, radioactive trefoils resemble apples plucked from the Garden of Eden, dooming a universal human figure to a high statistical likelihood of death. By the final panel of the obelisk, one of three human figures has collapsed while two remain standing, indicating a probability rather than a guarantee of serious injury.

Fourth, fifth, and sixth proposed panel inscriptions on buried waste surface markers at the Hanford Radwaste Disposal Sites. Source: Message Development for Surface Markers at the Hanford Radwaste Disposal Sites (Washington DC: US Department of Energy, 1984).

At Hanford, spatial and discursive techniques of toxic containment interweave multiple scales and histories of twentieth century nuclear production. By cleaving injurious matter from healthy bodies, nuclear and post-nuclear forms of risk mitigation distribute the normative limits of the human subject in relation to a toxic planet. Operating at the scale of the landscape, the town, the workplace, the home, and the body itself, toxic containment has shaped the conditions of life unequally based on entrenched colonialist stratifications. At Hanford, landscape and architecture are both cure and symptom; they are the sources of ecological and human fragility as well as the promise of a new life on a toxic planet.


D. J. Connell, “Fall 1998 200 East Area Biological Vector Contamination Report” (Richland, WA: Fluor Daniel Hanford, Inc., March 17, 1999), F-5.


This incident is documented in detail in, “Fall 1998 200 East Area Biological Vector Contamination Report”; my analysis is informed by Shannon Cram’s “Wild and Scenic Wasteland: Conservation Politics in the Nuclear Wilderness,” Environmental Humanities 7, no. 1 (2015): 99–101.


Connell, “Fall 1998 200 East Area Biological Vector Contamination Report,” 5–8, 1–6.


Connell, A-1, xiv. These details are also included in Cram’s “Wild and Scenic Wasteland,” 99–100.


To borrow a phrase from Mary Douglas, they become “matter out of place.” Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (London ; Boston: Routledge & K. Paul, 1980), 36.


Connell, “Fall 1998 200 East Area Biological Vector Contamination Report,” F-20.


Connell, F-7.


Soraya Boudia et al., “Residues: Rethinking Chemical Environments,” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 4 (June 28, 2018): 165–178; Angela N. H. Creager, Life Atomic : A History of Radioisotopes in Science and Medicine (London: The University of Chicago Press, 2013); Meredith TenHoor, “Toxic Geographies,” ed. Caroline Acheatel et al., Perspecta 53 (2020): 218–233; Gabrielle Hecht, Being Nuclear : Africans and the Global Uranium Trade (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014); Lawrence Buell, “Toxic Discourse,” Critical Inquiry 24, no. 3 (1998): 639–665. Another prominent example of scholarship on the meaning of toxicity, from within the discipline of architectural history, can be found in the Aggregate Architectural History Collaborative’s project on, “Toxics,” The Aggregate Website, Volume 8 (December 2020), .


Judith Butler, Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? (London; New York: Verso, 2009), 3.


Peter B. Hales, Atomic Spaces: Living on the Manhattan Project (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997), 3.


Hales, 35. Hales’ quotation of Groves can be found in Jesse A. Remington and Lenore Fine, eds., The Corps of Engineers: Construction in the United States (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2003), 659.


Cram, “Wild and Scenic Wasteland,” 90.


Hales, Atomic Spaces, 23.


Shannon Cram, “Becoming Jane: The Making and Unmaking of Hanford’s Nuclear Body,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 33, no. 5 (October 1, 2015): 803; Kate Brown, Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 32.


Hales, Atomic Spaces, 19.


Brown, Plutopia, 33.


Dorceta E. Taylor, “Internal Colonialism: Native American Communities in the West,” in Toxic Communities, Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility (NYU Press, 2014), 49.


Hales, Atomic Spaces, 45.


Gabrielle Hecht provides an illuminating account of the global uranium trade that relied on African mines for the raw materials of nuclear industry. African nations are mostly denied both the geopolitical exceptionalism of nuclearity as well as the international legal frameworks for redressing nuclear injury. According to Hecht, Shinkolobwe Mine remains unemediated and a source of “radiation-induced” disease. See Being Nuclear, 193, 336; The Shinkolobwe Mine has recently received attention in mass media as a significant site in the aftermath of the Manhattan Project; see Frank Swain, “The Forgotten Mine That Built the Atomic Bomb,” BBC, August 3, 2020, .


“Projects & Facilities - Hanford Site,” .


Brown, Plutopia, 47.


Brown, 46.


Brown, 47–48.


Brown, 342, n2.


Hales, Atomic Spaces, 102.


Brown, Plutopia, 22.


Brown, 26.


Brown, 27.


Brown, 24. For more on the relationship between toxicity and workplace reform in the nineteenth century, see Buell, “Toxic Discourse,” 651.


The ideal residents of Richland Village, as the community would be named, were white, middle-class, college-educated childrearing families. Hales, Atomic Spaces, 96.


DuPont opposed the New Deal, social welfare, and government intervention into markets. Additionally, the company’s executives believed that suburbia was good for business by incentivizing middle-class consumerism. But ironically, DuPont’s profits largely depended on government largesse through military contracts like the one for Hanford. Brown, Plutopia, 39.


Hales, Atomic Spaces, 36.


Hales, 107.


My reading of Pehrson’s plans is informed by Hales, 97.


Brown, Plutopia, 4.


Hales, Atomic Spaces, 278.


Hales, 284; Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), 10.


On the toxicity’s relationship to numerical standards, scientific instrumentation, and bodily politics, see Mel Y. Chen, Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect, Perverse Modernities (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012), 191.


Fabiola López-Durán, Eugenics in the Garden: Transatlantic Architecture and the Crafting of Modernity (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018), 188.


“Physical phantoms are made of solid materials which are radiologically equivalent to human tissues,” X. George Xu, “An Exponential Growth of Computational Phantom Research in Radiation Protection, Imaging, and Radiotherapy: A Review of the Fifty-Year History,” Physics in Medicine and Biology 59, no. 18 (September 21, 2014): 3.


Cram, “Becoming Jane,” 798.


Cram, 806.


Brown, Plutopia, 169.


Brown, 57.


Hales, Atomic Spaces, 149; Vitruvius Pollio, Vitruvius, the Ten Books on Architecture, trans. M. H. Morgan (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1926), 20.


Cram, “Wild and Scenic Wasteland,” 90.

Sick Architecture is a collaboration between Beatriz Colomina, e-flux Architecture, CIVA Brussels, and the Princeton University Ph.D. Program in the History and Theory of Architecture, with the support of the Rapid Response David A. Gardner ’69 Magic Grant from the Humanities Council and the Program in Media and Modernity at Princeton University.

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