Daydreaming about Pruitt-Igoe

According to former SLU professor, current New School professor Joseph Heathcott, the second most famous image of a demolition in America is that of Pruitt-Igoe being imploded. The most famous such image is the fall of the World Trade Center towers.

As I was sitting at lunch today, I kept thinking that it’s rather fascinating that both complexes were designed by the same architect, Minoru Yamasaki. I wonder what he would say about it if he was still around.

And of course, StL would have to be the home of the second most famous demolition image in the world. We lead the nation in historic rehabilitation, but when it gets right down to it, there is little that StL loves more than chewing its beautiful and/or notable structures to bits. I’m not saying P-I shoulda been saved (that’s a loooong discussion for a rainy day), but just noting how heartily we luv our bulldozers, headache balls, and explosives here in the StL.

Thomas Crone has recent pics of the P-I ruins, er, forest online here.

Published in: on January 15, 2008 at 8:28 pm  Comments (7)  
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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Is it a sad commentary that so much popular commentary on the abandonment, vandalization, and eventual destruction of Pruitt-Igoe seems to focus on the buildings themselves instead of their former residents? Should the residents, instead of north St. Louis skyline, be considered the true victims?

    The built environment that materialized for this project was indeed revolutionary, but it wasn’t just the buildings. Besides novel ideas about construction (i.e. modern structural engineering, economic use of materials), there were also revolutionary ideas about grand-scale urban planning, genuine desires to apply the largess of government towards common good, and above all, a daring to think big.

    If imagery is the enduring language of history, then why not also promote images of life at Priutt-Igoe, as it existed? The buildings are gone forever, but the people who lived there are not.

  2. It is my understanding that people did not like living at Pruitt-Igoe, in large part because of its design. I believe that at its peak, it was only 50% occupied because those that had a choice, chose a different project to live in.

    Yes, this building is about grand scale urban planning and the dream of progress, but it is also about the failure of human beings. That is why its destruction is often considered to be the beginning of the post-modern era.

  3. This is an all-consuming topic because both the former residents and the physical nature of the project have to be considered in context. Those who believed in the power of untested revolutionary design approaches matched with the compassion (if not social control) and largesse of well-meaning government bodies (SLHA) failed because of their hasty dispatch of the present conditions of the DeSoto/Carr slum. Those who didn’t believe in the power of governmnental compassion and positive intent will just as quickly dispatch this approach though it is only a singular failure in time. There are plenty of examples of high-rise slab projects in Europe that are successful, and plenty of examples of other spectacular failures of form (Cabrini/Green in Chicago, for instance). Pruitt-Igoe failed simply because the compartmentalization of desperately poor individuals intensified their predicament and ensured the intractability of their despair. On average, the 33 building complex was approximately 60% occupied, and of this rate of occupancy well over half of the households where headed by single mothers. These mothers, mostly unemployed, would be dependent upon their status as single parents to receive the AFDC checks they needed to survive. More dependendent children meant more federal assistance, but this assistance was available to households headed by a male figure. The destructive cycle was then made inescapable, and the multitudes of children in absence of strong fathers were more fledged by the gangs of other fatherless children than their own mothers. The government can provide the necessary foundation for positive neighborhood development, but it should not be providing the physical components that comprise strong neighborhoods. Planning can ensure that the beneficial patterns that should develop are encouraged to develop, while limiting the character and scale destroying patterns of development that prevail in more suburban areas.

  4. Sorry, that should read: “More dependent children meant more federal assistance,but this assistance was NOT available to households headed by a male figure.”

  5. The architect of the World Trade Center and designer of the Pruitt-Igoe complex of buildings, Minoru Yamasaki, did not live to see the results of the 9/11 attacks.

    I’ve never heard any comments from his about his role in the Hellmuth, Leinweber & Yamasaki design of Pruitt-Igoe and the infamous image of its destruction.

  6. It’s well documented that he regretted having anything to do with the design of the complex.

  7. […] and Jeannette Cooperman's amazing, exhaustively researched story, here). Currently, it is an accidental nature reserve, and the subject of many Flickr outings as well as a documentary-in-process. Some credit this new […]

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