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Memorializing Plutonium

Last week I received an email from a graduate student at Washington University in Saint Louis. She was interested in learning more about a competition I had entered that was sponsored by the the publication, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The group was founded in 1945 by scientists who had worked to develop the first atomic weapons. They are the group responsible for the "Doomsday Clock", a hypothetical timepiece that measures how close we are to a nuclear apocalypse (midnight). 

At any rate, in 2001 the group sponsored a hypothetical competition to design a permanent storage facility for 200 metric tons of plutonium piles that were then awaiting disposal. The entry produced by the 25-year-old version of me came in second (a position I still find myself in when imagining post-apocalyptic futures) and our submission was published in the May/June 2002 issue of the magazine. There was also an awards reception where I got to hobnob with nuclear scientists and ultimately I was able to add this project to my portfolio and resume.

And that was about it.

I honestly hadn't thought much about it in the subsequent fifteen years until I received that email last week. What I learned is that in 2005 a professor at Iowa State had written a scholarly essay about post-nuclear monuments, museums and gardens that had referenced my competition entry. That's how the Washington University student had found out about the project this year.

So just to review the timeline; in 2017 a student found a 2005 essay that referenced a project that had been published in 2002 that I had completed in 2001. It is true that nothing on the internet ever really dies - or it at least that things on the internet have a half-life similar to that of plutonium.

On The Internet, Nothing Ever Dies

image courtesy LRS

So back in 2003 after returning to Texas from my first post-college job in Chicago, I wrote an essay about my time there.  That experience was not particularly unique - I graduated as a naive young architect with idyllic notions regarding what my chosen profession would really be like and naturally it took some time for me to accept that the practice of architecture was in many ways quite different from the study of it.  But for whatever reason, the essay received a bit of attention.  It won a competition and was ultimately published in a collection of essays about architecture and design.  As a result I felt good about my writing prowess, used the recognition it garnered to pad my resume and then for the most part I completely forgot about it.

And then, about a decade later, it came back.  Or more accurately, one line of that essay came back.

One of the points I try and make in the original essay is that architecture students - like most other college students - enter the profession with a great deal of passion for and dedication to their chosen field.  To describe this enthusiasm I wrote:

“Architecture is not simply a job. It is a lifestyle. It is a way of looking at the world.  It is a verb.  It is a constant exploration where one looks for and finds inspiration in the world around them, and then applies that inspiration to create something completely new. And that thing we create is beautiful and makes a difference in the world.”

OK, it's a little overblown, perhaps, but it gets the point across and sounds pretty cool - especially the part about architecture being a verb.  I'm sure I stole that from somewhere, but it works.  Back in 2003 I remember that pull quote being used as an introduction for the 2,000 word essay.  But toward the end of 2013 the quote suddenly started reappearing in corporate newsletters and online collections of quotes about architecture.  Again, I was flattered but also a little bewildered.  It's fun to have your words written along with those of Frank Lloyd Wright and Samuel Mockbee even if it is written toward the bottom of that list with the other unknown writers.

Earlier this year things came full circle when a friend of mine from my time in Chicago sent me a email announcement he had received from a firm in Portland.  The email was announcing the promotion of four architects at LRS and there, above it all, was the quote (as seen in the image opening this post).

At the end of the day, I'm grateful that so far this is the only thing from my online past that has come back to haunt me.  I can only hope that those compromising photos of Ann Coulter and I remain hidden.