3. Throwback Thursday: A town built of cemesto. When building materials are in short supply, people get innovative. The 1930s saw the adoption of cemesto, a building material made of sugar cane fiber sandwiched with asbestos and cement. The material was developed into low-cost housing by putting cemesto panels into wooden frames. This system was designed by the John B. Pierce Foundation and Celotex.
The use of cemesto moved rapidly. A prototype was displayed at the 1939 World's Fair in New York City, and by 1941 it was in use for employee housing at the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Company near Baltimore, Maryland in a project known as Aero Acres. Architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill designed gable-roofed Cape Cod houses. A total of 600 homes were built at Aero Acres in 1941, and another 400 were created at another Stansbury Estates, a nearby development, in 1942.
But that was small potatoes compared to the construction of the town that later became Oak Ridge, Tennessee. From 1942 to 1945, the town first called "Clinton Engineer Works," or "CEW was a secret planned city, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Approximately 3,000 cemesto homes were quickly constructed. Cemesto excited the minds of architects at the time and legends such as Donald Barthelme, Edward Durell Stone, Charles Eames, and Frank Lloyd Wright were among those who experimented with cemesto.
Because cemesto contains asbestos, there are different opinions on how to handle it. There are many cemesto houses throughout the country, and many have been re-sided or had the cemesto replaced. Others are intact and lived in today.