The Pruitt-Igoe housing project, built in St. Louis, has been regarded as one of the most infamous failures of public housing in American history. Its destruction is considered by some to be the beginning of postmodern architecture.
Designed in 1951 by architect Minoru Yamasaki (who would later design the World Trade Center), the complex was named for St. Louisans Wendell O. Pruitt, an African-American fighter pilot in World War II, and William L. Igoe, a former representative in Congress. Originally, the city planned two partitions: Pruitt for black residents, and Igoe for whites. After this type of segregation was ruled unconstitutional, the project was integrated at its opening.
It consisted of 33 11-story apartment buildings on a 57 acre (23 hectare) site on St. Louis's lower north side, bounded by Cass Avenue on the north, N. Jefferson Avenue on the west, MLK Drive on the south, and N. 20th Street on the east. The complex totaled 2,870 apartments, and was completed in five years. Prior to the project's construction, the land was known as the De Soto-Carr neighborhood, an extremely poor section of St. Louis. The project was commissioned as part of the post-WWII federal housing program, as an attempt to bring people back to the city. Within a few years it was heavily vandalized and quickly fell into disrepair and disuse.
Many of the architectural design elements of Pruitt-Igoe, such as its galleries and "skip-stop" elevators (which stopped only at the first, fourth, seventh, and tenth floors in an attempt to lessen congestion), turned out to be at best inconveniences and at worst facilitated crime. The buildings remained largely vacant for years, and after several failed attempts to rehabilitate the area the St. Louis Housing Authority began demolition of the complex on March 16, 1972.
Critics have cited the failure of Pruitt-Igoe as an example of how planned urban communities often fail. The complex had been designed as an attempt to emulate the public housing projects in New York City, but with little regard for the vast difference in economies and population distributions in the two cities. The reasons for the failure of Pruitt-Igoe are complicated. Although Yamasaki's design usually takes most of the blame, in reality the sharp decline of St. Louis as residents left for the suburbs and the financial drain of the Vietnam War both played a role in the project's failure.
Some of the original plans for the buildings, such as playgrounds and gardens, proved too expensive and were never added.
Today, the site of the former projects is empty, with only trees and dusty paths marking the spot. Many plans for development of the area have been suggested, but none has been carried out; among other reasons, the removal of Pruitt-Igoe's concrete foundations, which are still buried, would be very expensive.
Footage of the demolition of Pruitt-Igoe was incorporated into the film Koyaanisqatsi.
Books and Articles
- Sociological study of Pruitt-Igoe: Lee Rainwater, Behind Ghetto Walls: Black Families in a Federal Slum (Chicago: Aldine Pub. Co., 1970).
- Elizabeth Birmingham, "Reframing the Ruins: Pruitt-Igoe, Structural Racism, and African American Rhetoric as a Space for Cultural Critique," Positionen 2.2 (1998).
- "Confessions in Stone" Stranger than Fiction by: Chuck Palahniuk Doubleday, 2004.
- Mary Delach Leonard, Pruitt-Igoe Housing Complex, St. Louis Post Dispatch historical summary, 13 January 2004.
- Oscar Newman, Creating Defensible Space (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research, 1996).
- Randall Roberts "It Was Just Like Beverly Hills", Riverfront Times, June 1, 2005.
- Alexander von Hoffman Why They Built the Pruitt-Igoe Project, Joint Center for Housing Studies, Harvard University.
<googlemap lat="38.642827" lon="-90.209244" zoom="16" width="700" controls="large"> 38.642752, -90.208912, Former Pruitt-Igoe site. </googlemap>