Destroyed in a dramatic and highly-publicized implosion, the Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex has become a widespread symbol of failure amongst architects, politicians and policy makers. The Pruitt-Igoe Myth explores the social, economic and legislative issues that led to the decline of conventional public housing in America, and the city centers in which they resided, while tracing the personal and poignant narratives of several of the project’s residents. In the post-War years, the American city changed in ways that made it unrecognizable from a generation earlier, privileging some and leaving others in its wake. The next time the city changes, remember Pruitt-Igoe.
Documentary: The Pruitt-Igoe Myth
Pruitt–Igoe was a large urban housing project first occupied in 1954 in the U.S. city of St. Louis, Missouri. Living conditions in Pruitt–Igoe began to decline soon after its completion in 1956. By the late 1960s, the complex had become internationally infamous for its poverty, crime, and segregation. Its 33 buildings were torn down in the mid-1970s, and the project has become an icon of urban renewal and public-policy planning failure.
The complex was designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki, who also designed the World Trade Center towers and the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport main terminal.
Explanations for the failure of Pruitt–Igoe are complex. It is often presented as an architectural failure; other critics cite social factors including economic decline of St. Louis,white flight into suburbs, lack of tenants who were employed, and politicized local opposition to government housing projects as factors playing a role in the project’s decline. Pruitt–Igoe has become a frequently used textbook case in architecture, sociology and politics, “a truism of the environment and behavior literature”,.
The Pruitt–Igoe housing project was one of the first demolitions of modernist architecture; postmodern architectural historian Charles Jencks called its destruction “the dayModern architecture died.” Because it was designed by a leading architect and won a “building of the year” award (though no professional awards), its failure is often seen as a direct indictment of the society-changing aspirations of the International School. Jencks used Pruitt–Igoe as an example of modernists’ intentions running contrary to real-world social development, though others argue that location, population density, cost constraints, and even specific number of floors were imposed by the federal and state authorities and therefore cannot be attributed entirely to architectural factors.
Available on Netflix: http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/The_Pruitt-Igoe_Myth/70197371?trkid=2361637
PUBLIC NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the Urban Intellectuals, affiliates or partners.