The Myth of Pruitt-Igoe
Completed in 1954, the 33 11-story buildings of the Pruitt-Igoe housing development was built as an attempt to address the housing crisis the poor faced in St Louis, Missouri. Only twenty years later, at 3pm on the 16th of March, 1972, the buildings were leveled, declared unfit for habitation because of unsafe and unsanitary conditions, coupled with rampant crime. The story of Pruitt-Igoe is a tragic urban fable, a complicated and loaded story of ambition, hubris and failure.
Why the project failed is still a subject of debate. One popular notion is that Pruitt-Igoe was a failure of Modern architecture and the Modern ideal. Charles Jencks went as far as to say that the day that Pruitt-Igoe was torn down was “the day Modernism died.” Many go further, citing the Modernist style of Pruitt-Igoe as the direct cause of its failure.
Says Homo Ludens:
According to [the] myth, if its architecture had been more vernacular, more sympathetic to “traditional patterns” of behaviour or local history, Pruitt-Igoe would have been a success. As an argument, it is astoundingly insular, and utterly blind to outside forces. In its own way, it is even more dogmatic, even more wedded to the principle that society can be engineered by design alone…. It is understandable that the architectural profession would put forward such an argument – it legitimates them as the be-all and end-all of the urban environment.
But as Bristol notes, “what this obscures is the architects’ passivity in the face of a much larger agenda that has its roots not in radical social reform, but in the political economy of post-World War II St Louis and in practices of racial segregation.”
This over-emphasis on architecture lets other actors, policy-makers and politicians whose actions were far more damaging to Pruitt-Igoe, off the hook.
A new film takes a fresh look on the creation and failure of the project. The Myth of Pruitt-Igoe aims to put the project in a larger historical and political context:
From the filmmaker’s website:
The Pruitt-Igoe Myth seeks to set the historical record straight. To examine the interests involved in Pruitt-Igoe’s creation. To re-evaluate the rumors and the stigma. To implode the myth.