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Coordinates: 38°38′32.24″N 90°12′33.95″W / 38.6422889°N 90.2094306°W / 38.6422889; -90.2094306

April 1972. The second, widely televised demolition of a Pruitt-Igoe building that followed the March 16 demolition.[1]

Pruitt-Igoe was a large urban housing project first occupied in 1954[2] and completed in 1955[3] in the U.S. city of St. Louis, Missouri. Shortly after its completion, living conditions in Pruitt-Igoe began to decay; by the late 1960s, the extreme poverty, crime, and segregation brought the complex a great deal of infamy as it was covered extensively by the international press. The complex was designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki, who also designed the World Trade Center towers.

At 3 PM on March 16, 1972[4] — less than 20 years after construction — the first of the complex's 33 buildings was demolished by the federal government.[5] The other 32 buildings were destroyed over the next 2 years. The high-profile failure of Pruitt-Igoe has become an emblematic icon often evoked by all sides in public housing policy debate. The Pruitt-Igoe housing project was one of the first demolitions of modernist architecture and its destruction was claimed by postmodern architect Charles Jencks to mark "the day Modern architecture died."[6] Footage of the demolition of Pruitt-Igoe was incorporated into the film Koyaanisqatsi.


[edit] Background

During the 1940s and 50s, the city of St. Louis, constrained by its 1876 boundaries, was "a very crowded place"; "in almost a classic sense it looked and felt like a 'real' big city ... like something out of a Charles Dickens novel".[7] Its housing stock deteriorated through the interbellum decades and World War II. More than 85 thousand families lived in 19th century tenements; a 1947 official survey found out that 33 thousand homes had communal toilets.[7] Middle-class, predominantly white, residents were leaving the city, their former residences were occupied by low-income families. Black (north) and white (south) slums of the old city were segregated and expanding, threatening to engulf the city center.[8] To save central properties from an imminent loss of value, city authorities settled on redevelopment of the "inner ring" around the central business district.[8] Decay was so profound there that gentrification of existing real estate was considered impractical.[7]

In 1947, Saint Louis planners proposed replacement of DeSoto-Carr, a run-down black neighborhood, with new two- and three-story residential blocks and a public park.[9] The plan did not materialize; instead, Democratic mayor Joseph Darst, elected in 1949, and Republican state leaders favored total clearing of the slums and replacing them with high-rise, high-density public housing. They reasoned that the new projects would create a net positive result to the city through increased revenues, new parks, playgrounds and shopping space.[7]

We must rebuild, open up and clean up the hearts of our cities. The fact that slums were created with all the intrinsic evils was everybody's fault. Now it is everybody's responsibility to repair the damage.
Joseph Darst, 1951[10]

In 1948 voters rejected the proposal for a municipal loan to finance the change, but soon the situation was changed with the Housing Act of 1949 and Missouri state laws that provided co-financing of public housing projects. The approach taken by Darst, urban renewal, was shared by Harry S. Truman administration and fellow mayors of other cities overwhelmed by industrial workers recruited during the war.[3] Specifically, Saint Louis Land Clearance and Redevelopment Authority was authorized to acquire and demolish the slums of the inner ring and then sell the land at reduced prices to private developers, fostering middle-class return and business growth. Another agency, Saint Louis Housing Authority, had to clear land to construct public housing for the former slum dwellers.[8]

By 1950, Saint Louis had received a federal commitment to finance 5,800 public housing units.[11] The first large public housing in St. Louis, Cochran Gardens, was completed in 1953 and intended for low-income whites. It contained 704 units in twelve high-rise buildings[3] and was followed by Pruitt-Igoe, Darst-Webbe and Vaughan. Pruit-Igoe was intended for young middle-class white and black tenants, segregated into different buildings, Darst-Webbe for low-income white tenants. Missouri public housing remained racially segregated until 1956.[12]

[edit] Design and construction

The Pruitt-Igoe complex was composed of 33 buildings of 11 stories each on the Near North Side of St. Louis, Missouri

In 1950 the city commissioned the firm of Leinweber, Yamasaki & Hellmuth to design Pruitt-Igoe, a new complex named for St. Louisans Wendell O. Pruitt, an African-American fighter pilot in World War II, and William L. Igoe, a former U.S. Congressman. Originally, the city planned two partitions: Captain W. O. Pruitt Homes for the black residents, and William L. Igoe Apartments for whites.[13] The site was bounded by Cass Avenue on the north, North Jefferson Avenue on the west, Carr Street on the south, and North 20th Street on the east. Prior to the project's construction, the land was known as the De Soto-Carr neighborhood, an extremely poor section of St. Louis, a black ghetto.[8]

The project was authored by architect Minoru Yamasaki who would later design New York's World Trade Center. It was Yamasaki's first large independent job, performed under supervision and constraints imposed by the federal Public Housing Authority. Initial proposal provided a mix of high-rise, mid-rise and walk-up buildings. It was acceptable to Saint Louis authorities, but exceeded the federal cost limits imposed by the PHA; the agency intervened and imposed a uniform building height at 11 floors.[11][13] Shortages of materials caused by the Korean War and tensions in the Congress further tightened PHA controls.[11]

In 1951 Architectural Forum praised Yamasaki's original proposal as "the best high apartment" of the year. Overall density was set at a moderate level of 50 units per acre (higher than in downtown slums[11]), yet, according to the planning principles of Le Corbusier and the International Congress of Modern Architects, residents were raised up to 11 floors above ground in an attempt to save the grounds and ground floor space for communal activity.[14] Architectural Forum praised the layout as "vertical neighborhoods for poor people".[10] Each row of buildings was supposed to be flanked by a "river of trees",[14] developing a Harland Bartholomew concept.[13] However, parking and recreation facilities were inadequate; playgrounds were added only after tenants petitioned for their installation.

Dwarfing the church building located to its east, Pruitt-Igoe's size impresses even today.

As completed in 1955, Pruitt-Igoe consisted of 33 11-story apartment buildings on a 57 acre (23 hectare) site on St. Louis's lower north side, The complex totaled 2,870 apartments, being one of the largest in the United States.[12] The apartments were deliberately small, with undersized kitchen appliances.[12] "Skip-stop" elevators stopped only at the first, fourth, seventh, and tenth floors, forcing residents to use stairs in an attempt to lessen congestion. The same "anchor floors" were equipped with large communal corridors, laundry rooms, communal rooms and garbage chutes.[14] In real life the stairwells and corridors attracted muggers.[12] Ventilation was poor, centralized air conditioning nonexistent.[12]

Badly designed, Pruitt-Igoe was badly built yet very expensive to St. Louis. Despite federal cost-cutting regulations, Pruitt-Igoe initially cost 36 million dollars,[4] 60% above national average for public housing.[12] Conservatives attributed cost overruns to inflated unionized labor wages and the steamfitters union influence that led to installation of expensive heating system;[12] overruns on the heating system caused a chain of arbitrary cost cuts in other vital parts of the building.[13]

Nevertheless, initially Pruitt-Igoe garnered net positive publicity as a breakthrough in urban renewal.[10] Despite poor build quality, material suppliers referenced Pruitt-Igoe in their advertisements, capitalizing on the national exposure of the project.[10]

[edit] Decay

An observer could peer straight through the buildings of Pruitt-Igoe owing to the large number of broken-out windows.

A 1956 Missouri court decision desegregated public housing in the state, and the newly built complex became predominantly populated by black tenants. Whites evidently chose not to take up residence in the new integrated towers.[15]

The buildings remained largely vacant for years, although sources on exact depopulation rate differ: according to Newman, occupancy never rose above 60%;[14] according to Ramroth, vacancy rose to one-third capacity by 1965.[4] All authors agree that by the end of 1960s Pruitt-Igoe was nearly abandoned and had deteriorated into a decaying, dangerous, crime-infested neighborhood; its architect lamented: "I never thought people were that destructive".[16] In 1971, Pruitt-Igoe housed only six hundred people in seventeen buildings; the other sixteen were boarded up.[17] Meanwhile, adjacent Carr Village, a low-rise area with a similar demographic makeup, remained fully occupied and trouble-free throughout the construction, occupancy and decline of Pruitt-Igoe.[18]

A view of the public areas, which were so criticized by the design community after Pruitt-Igoe's failure.

Despite decay of the public areas and gang violence, Pruitt-Igoe contained isolated pockets of relative well-being throughout its worst years. Apartments clustered around small, two-family landings with tenants working to maintain and clear their common areas were often relatively successful. When corridors were shared by 20 families and staircases by hundreds, public spaces immediately fell into disrepair.[18] When the number of residents per public space rose above a certain level, none would identify with these "no man's land[s]" - places where it was "impossible to feel ... to tell resident from intruder".[18] The inhabitants of Pruitt-Igoe organized an active tenant association, bringing about community enterprises. One such example was the creation of craft rooms; These rooms allowed the women of the Pruitt-Igoe to congregate, socialize, and create ornaments, quilts and statues for sale.

[edit] Demolition

In 1968 federal Department of Housing began encouraging remaining residents to leave Pruitt-Igoe.[19]

In December 1971 state and federal authorities agreed to demolish first two of Pruitt-Igoe buildings. They hoped that gradual reduction in population and building density could improve the situation; by this time, Pruitt-Igoe had consumed 57 million dollars, an investment that could not be abandoned at once.[4] Authorities considered different scenarios to rehabilitate Pruitt-Igoe, including conversion to a low-rise neighborhood by cutting down the towers to four floors and "horizontal" reorganization of their layout.[20][4]

After months of preparation, the first building was demolished with an explosion at 3 p.m., March 16, 1972.[4] The second one went down April 22, 1972.[4] After more explosions on July 15, the first stage of demolition was over.[4] As the government scrapped rehabilitation plans, Pruitt-Igoe agonized for three more years; the site was finally cleared in 1976. Today, the site of the former projects is partially used as the site for Gateway Institute of Technology, a magnet school based in science and technology within the St. Louis Public School district, the rest is planted with trees. Former DeSoto-Carr slums around the Pruitt-Igoe have also been torn down and replaced with low-density, single-family housing.

[edit] Legacy and misconceptions

Explanations for the failure of Pruitt-Igoe are complex. Typically, it is presented as a purely architectural failure;[21] other critics bring in social factors like economic decline of St. Louis, white flight into suburbs and politicized local opposition to government housing projects also played 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",[22] to the point where the story of Pruitt-Igoe evolves as a self-sustaining myth shrouded in misconceptions.[22]

Pruitt-Igoe is frequently presented as an award-winning design;[23][24] however, it never won any professional awards other than a magazine "best of the year" entry cited above.[22] An earlier St. Louis project by the same architects, Cochran Gardens, did receive two awards.[22] Katherine G. Bristol argues that this voluntary error by critics was part of a general drive to blame failures of public housing onto the International style school, allegedly insensitive to real-world society, and the re-evaluation of modernism of the 1970s.[22]

The city of modern architecture, both as a psychological construct and a physical model, has been rendered tragically ridiculous... the city of Le Corbusier, the city celebrated by CIAM and advertised by the Athens Charter, the former city of deliverance is everyday found increasingly inadequate
Colin Rowe, Fred Koetter (1976). Collage City. 

Charles Jencks, one of the critics who referred to non-existent awards issued by AIA,[24] used Pruitt-Igoe as an example of modernists' hazardous intentions running contrary to real-world social development.[24] This concept disregards the fact that location, population density, cost constraints, and even specific number of floors was imposed by the federal and state authorities.[25]

[edit] Other images

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Photo attribution: Ramroth, p. 166
  2. ^ Checkoway, p. 245
  3. ^ a b c Larsen, Kirkendall, p. 61
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Ramroth, p. 165
  5. ^ Mendelssohn, Quinn, p. 163
  6. ^ Jencks, p.9
  7. ^ a b c d Larsen, Kirkendall, p. 60
  8. ^ a b c d Bristol, p. 353
  9. ^ Ramroth, p. 169
  10. ^ a b c d Ramroth, p. 164
  11. ^ a b c d Bristol, p. 354
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Larsen, Kirkendall, p. 62
  13. ^ a b c d Hall, p. 256
  14. ^ a b c d Newman, p. 10
  15. ^ Hoffmann
  16. ^ Patterson, p. 336
  17. ^ Larsen, Kirkendall p. 63
  18. ^ a b c Newman, p. 11
  19. ^ Ramroth, p. 171
  20. ^ Leonard
  21. ^ Bristol, p. 352
  22. ^ a b c d e Bristol, p. 359
  23. ^ Pipkin, p. 232
  24. ^ a b c Jencks, 9
  25. ^ Bristol, p. 360

[edit] References

[edit] Further reading

  • Bristol, Kate; Montgomery, Roger (1987). Pruitt-Igoe: An Annotated Bibliography. Council of Planning Librarians. ISBN 0866022058, ISBN 9780866022057. 
  • Chuck Palahniuk, "Confessions in Stone" in Stranger than Fiction. (New York: Doubleday, 2004).

[edit] External links

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