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Plutonium Memorial

Competition 2002  Trinity New Mexico     Competition Team   Thomas Cheney - John Brittingham - Jed Thomas

Honorable Mention


Rising Phoenix


The Phoenix Project:  a bird that consumed itself by fire…and rose renewed from its ashes  


The Phoenix Project resolves the disposition of the world’s plutonium and its nuclear waste.   The birthplace of the first nuclear detonation (the Trinity Site in the desert of White Sands New Mexico) is the death place, and repository, for all the plutonium created by man.  The project is a tattoo of the first nuclear detonation orchestrated by Julius Robert Oppenheimer and the United States Government.  The Phoenix Project re- records the physical mark generated by the first nuclear blast.  The center of the project is located precisely at the point of detonation and is an imprint of the physical demarcation of its effects.


The Phoenix Project is a depression in the earth that is 2400 feet by 2400 feet (the size of the imprint left on the earth by the first nuclear detonation).  Pollux casks, containing the world’s plutonium, are arranged in the depression as an analogue, or imprint of the atomic plan of plutonium.  A ten foot high mound of sand, from The White Sands Missile Base, envelops the base of the casks and records the depth of the depression of the first nuclear detonation. The Phoenix Project accommodates all the plutonium on record and makes ample allowance for possible additional, and unknown, material.The depression is entered from three different trajectory trenches re-recording entry to the Trinity Site.  


The Pollux casks are delivered to the site via the south entrance as per the delivery of the first nuclear device.  Visitors come to the site via the north entrance as per the public officials who attended the first nuclear detonation.  Security forces have a separate entrance from the southwest as per their location on July 16, 1945.


The structure of the project is an analogue to the mono-clinic structure of plutonium that is characterized by two non-equal axes that are perpendicular to each other and a third axis that is inclined to the a axis.


The overhead roof element composed of six different tilted, and canted planes (as per the six different isotopes of plutonium), is manufactured from LCD green polycarbonate glass.  These six planes are supported by a series of space frames that are carried by columns that are normal, and perpendicular, to the unique orientation of each plane.  The columns are lozenge shaped in profile, and cross-shaped in plan, recalling imagery of military hardware while simultaneously alluding to imagery seen at military grave sites like Arlington Virginia.  The six different over-head planes of green poly carbonate glass, in concert with the reflective mound of white sand, provide an eerie image of an interrupted ground plane that is a visual metaphor for the green grass planes common of the Arlington Virginia grave yards.


The surrounding retaining walls of the project are stained to match the color of trinitite glass (a resultant material generated by the first nuclear detonation) and imprinted with nuclear history and imagery.


Power for The Phoenix Project, is generated by surrounding bunkers of photo voltaic cells.  This provides a natural counterpoint to the man-made material plutonium.


The space and imagery developed for the project are intentionally disconcerting and can never be fully comprehended from any single vantage point.  From the air at night, The Phoenix Project emerges from the desert floor as an eerie and poignant reminder of the abstract, and all to real, capabilities of man’s mind.      

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