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KATHARINE BRISTOL, G. of University Califbrnia,Berkeley
This paper is an effort to debunkthe myths associated withthe demolitionof the Pruitt-lgoepublic housing project. Inthe seventeen years since its demise, this project has become a widely recognized symbol of architecturalfailure. Anyone remotely familiarwiththe recent historyof Americanarchitecture knowsto associate Pruitt-lgoewiththe failure of HighModernism,and withthe inadequacy of efforts to provide livable environmentsfor the poor. It is this association of the project's demolitionwiththe failure of modern architecture that constitutes the core of the Pruitt-lgoemyth. In place of the myth, this paper offers a brief historyof Pruitt-lgoethat demonstrates how its construction and management were shaped by profoundlyembedded economic and politicalconditions in postwarSt. Louis.Itthen outlines how each successive retelling of the Pruitt-lgoestory in both the nationaland architecturalpress has added new distortionsand misinterpretations the originalevents. The of of paper concludes by offering an interpretation the Pruitt-lgoemyth as mystification.By placing the responsibilityfor the failure of public housing on or designers, the myth shifts attentionfrom the institutional structuralsources of public housing problems.
FEW ARCHITECTURAL IMAGESARE MORE POWERFUL THAN THE SPECTACLE
1. Pruitt-lgoe demolition. St. Post-Dispatch) (Courtesy Louis
of the Pruitt-Igoepublic housing project crashing to the ground (Figure 1). Since the trial demolition of three of its buildings in 1972, Pruitt-Igoe has attained an iconic significanceby virtue of its continuous use and reuse as a symbol within a series of debates in architecture. In these discussions there is virtual unanimity that the project's demise demonstrated an architecturalfailure. When Charles Jencks announced in 1977 that the demoliton of Pruitt-Igoe representedthe death of modern architecture, he invoked an interpretation of the project that has today gained widespread acceptance. Anyone remotely familiarwith the recent history of American architectureautomatically associates Pruitt-Igoe with the failure of High Modernism, and with the inadequacyof efforts to provide livable environments for the poor. This version of the Pruitt-Igoe story is a myth. At the core of the myth is the idea that architecturaldesign was responsible for the demise of Pruitt-Igoe. In the first section of this essay I debunk the myth by offering a brief history of Pruitt-Igoe from the perspectiveof its place within a largerhistory of urban redevelopment and housing policy. This history engages the profoundly embedded economic and political conditions that shaped the construction and management of Pruitt-Igoe. I then consider how the Pruitt-Igoe myth came to be created and disseminated, both by the national press and by architects and architecture critics, and how each successive retelling of the Pruitt-Igoe story has added new dimensions to the myth. I want to focus particularattention on one of the most important aspects of the myth: the alleged connection between the project's failure and the end of modern architecture. In the final section I argue for an interpretation of the Pruitt-Igoe myth as mystification. By placing the responsibility for the failure of public housing on designers, the myth shifts attention from the institutional or structural sources of public housing problems. Simultaneously it legitimates the architectureprofession by implying that deeply embedded social problems are caused, and thereforesolved, by architecturaldesign.
The Pruitt-lgoestory: Public housing and urban redevelopmern was underthe UnitedStates HousingAct of 1949, Pruitt-Igoe created whichmadefundsdirectly available citiesforslumclearance, to urban and redevelopment, public housing. Like many other cities in the a shiftof its predomiera, postwar St. Louiswasexperiencing massive nantlywhite middle-class populationtowardsthe suburbs.At the same time, centralcity slums were expandingas poor households movedinto unitsabandoned thoseleavingthe city.' Locatedin a by ring immediatelysurroundingthe centralbusinessdistrict, these
1 63 Bristol
slumswereracially Blacksoccupiedthe areaimmediately segregated. north of downtown,while whites tended to live to the south. The blackghetto expandedparticularly with the postwarinflux of fast poor blackpopulationfrom the South.As the growingslumscrept closerto the centralbusiness and district,city officials the localbusinesscommunityfearedthe accompanying declinein property values would threatenthe economichealthof downtownrealestate.They a the by responded developing comprehensive to redevelop zone plan the downtownbusiness core.2 immediately surrounding of Using the urbanredevelopment provisions the 1949 HousSt. Louis'LandClearance and Redevelopment ing Act, Authority and tracts withinthe slumsand to plannedto acquire clearextensive sell them at reduced cost to private Theseredevelopment developers. wereslatedto accommodate middle-income projects mainly housing and commercialdevelopmentin an effort to lure the middle class backto the central city.At the sametime, the St. LouisHousingAuwouldclearlandforthe construction publichousing. of These thority wereintendedto providelargenumbers low-rentunitsto of projects the poorin orderto stemghettoexpansion, alsoto accommodate and householdsdisplacedby redevelopment and other slum clearance projects.3 was Located Pruitt-Igoe one of thesepublichousingprojects. on a 57-acresite on the northside blackghetto,it wasone of several tracts thathadbeentargeted slumclearance for underthe postwar reIn 1950 St. Louisreceived federal a commitment development plan. for 5800 publichousingunits,abouthalfof whichwereallocated by the St. Louis Housing Authority to Pruitt-Igoe. The 2700-unit wouldhouse 15,000 tenants densities at project higherthanthe originalslumdwellings. highdensityresulted The fromhousingand rede-
3. Siteplan.(Courtesy Roger Montgomery)
2. Aerial of Pruitt-goe. view Missouri Historical (Courtesy Society) May 1991 JAE 44/3 164
officials' that wouldeventually velopment expectations theseprojects come to housenot only thosedisplaced slum clearance Pruittfor by but alsoby demolition redevelopment for andforfuture Igoe, projects publichousing. In 1950 the St. LouisHousingAuthoritycommissionedthe firmof Leinweber, Yamasaki Hellmuthto designPruitt-Igoe. & The architects' wasconstrained the sizeandlocationof the site,the task by numberof units,and the projectdensity,all of which had beenpredeterminedby the St. LouisHousingAuthority.Their firstdesign proposalscalled for a mixtureof high-rise,mid-rise,and walk-up structures. was to Though this arrangement acceptable the localauit exceeded federal the maximum allowable cost thority, goverment's unit.At thispointa fieldofficer the federal of PublicHousingAdper ministration and (P.H.A.)intervened insistedon a schemeusing33 identical elevator 2 eleven-story buildings(Figures and 3).4Thesedetook placein the contextof a stricteconomyand effisign changes ciency drivewithin the P.H.A. Political opposition to the public was intensein the conservative housingprogram particularly political climateof the early1950s. In addition,the outbreak the Korean of war had createdinflationand materials shortages,and the P.H.A. founditselfin the positionof havingto justifypublichousingexpenditures an unsympathetic to Congress.5 for Despitethe intensepressure economical design,the architectsdevoteda greatdealof attentionto improvinglivabilityin the units.One of theirstrategies to usetwo popular dewas new high-rise
..J1,_~,z -U. -t X ^,, L eJ~-I " r *~izIjifrEE fh-- ..'i ' ? ,.W<-i, i? I :- t. .r *> ..
elevators glazedinternal and sign features: skip-stop galleries (Figures ---^ 4 and 5). Thesewereintendedto create"individual neighborhoods" '
Lrr:< 11 .
within each building. The galleries,located on every third floor, were
conceived "vertical as elevators resihallways." Skip-stop transported level,fromwhich theywouldwalkto theirapart... dentsto the gallery
ments. Laundry and storage rooms also opened off the galleries.
:,,B t.xt. :i: 411;W!w;
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was Forumand ArPruitt-Igoe publishedin the Architectural chitectural Record,6 was thesespecificdesignfeatures it that received dg most attention. The Architectural Record the skip-stop elthe praised evators galleries innovative and as for the shortcomcompensations of the high-rise ~a.h~-.~ings housingform: Sinceall of theseare,underfederal combinedlowlegislation, renthousingandslum-clearance locatednearthe heart projects, of the city, a high-rise, solutionwas inescapable, high-density and the problem how to plana high-rise was on project a huge scale,and still provide,to the greatestextent possibleunder communities with individual scaleandcharlegislation, acterwhich would avoid the "project" atmosphereso often criticized.7
)f 4. View c a Pruitt-lgoe Missouri Historical building. (Courtesy
^^^B *forced .~l~ -^JIBiB-~
Even after the architects had switched to an all high-rise fromthe PublicHousingAdscheme,theyfacedcontinuedpressure ministration keepcoststo a bareminimum.In a 1975 studyof the to on St. LouisHousingAuthority's expenditures Pruitt-Igoe, political scientistEugeneMeehananalyzed extentto which thesebudget the constraints affected finaldesign.In additionto the elimination the of suchas children's areas, andground-floor amenities, play landscaping, the bathrooms, cost cutting targeted points of contactbetweenthe tenants the livingunits."Thequality the hardware so poor and of was doorknobs lockswerebroken initialuse. ...Windowpanes and on wereblown frominadequate framesby wind pressure. the kitchIn weremadeof the thinnest ens,cabinets plywoodpossible."8 Pruitt-Igoewas completedin 1954. Though originallyconceived as two segregatedsections (Pruitt for blacks and Igoe for |whites), a SupremeCourt decision handed down that same year desegregation. Attemptsat integrationfailed,however,and
Pruitt-Igoe was an exclusively black project virtually from inception.
5. Diagr ammatic section. (Courtesy Roger Montgomery)
OverallPruitt-Igoe's first tenantsappeared pleasedwith their new the relatively construction housing.Despite cheap quality,the units still represented much higherlevelof amenitythan the dilapidated a unitstheyhadvacated beenforcedto leave. or conditions begunto deteriorate. of had One 1958,however, By the first signalswas a steadilydeclining occupancyrate.As Roger Montgomeryhas persuasively argued,St. Louis' housing officials failedto anticipate trendsthat drachangingpostwardemographic
1 65 Bristol
the affectedthe inner-city matically housingmarketand threatened
viability of public housing projects.9Pruitt-Igoe was conceived at a time when the demand for low-income housing units in the inner city had never been higher, due to widespread dislocation caused by slum clearance,urban renewal,and the federalhighway program.However, by the time the project opened in 1954, this demand had taperedoff. Slow overallmetropolitan population growth and the overproduction of inexpensive suburban dwellings helped open up the previously tight inner-city rental market to blacks. Many chose to live in inexpensive private dwellings ratherthan in public housing. Pruitt-Igoe's occupancy rate peaked in 1957 at 91% and immediately began to decline. This decline in occupancy directly impacted the St. Louis Housing Authority's ability to maintain the project, as Eugene Meehan has amply demonstrated.?1 Under the 1949 Housing Act, local housing authorities were expected to fund their operations and maintenance out of rents collected from tenants. In a period of rising costs and declining occupancy, the Housing Authority was placed in a cost-income squeeze that impeded its ability to conduct basic repairs. In addition, averagetenant income was declining. The project came increasingly to be inhabited by the poorest segment of the black population: primarilyfemale heads of households dependent on public assistance. These demographic shifts and economic pressures resulted in chronic neglect of maintenance and mechanicalbreakdowns. Elevatorsfailed to work and vandalism went unrepaired.In a project increasinglyinhabited by the poorest and most demoralized segment of the population, the vandalism came also to be accompanied by increasingratesof violent crime. The ongoing problems of vandalism, violence, and fiscal instability prompted a number of efforts to salvage Pruitt-Igoe. In 1965 the first of severalfederalgrants arrivedto provide physical rejuvenation and the establishment of social programsto benefit the residents and to combat further rent arrearages. The programshad little effect: Occupancy rates continued to decline, crime rates climbed, and routine management and maintenance were neglected. In 1969 PruittIgoe tenants joined residents of two other St. Louis public housing projectsin a massivenine-month rent strike.This furtherdepleted the Housing Authority's limited financial reservesand aggravatedthe vacancy problem, prompting H.U.D. to consider closing the project.1 In an effort to determine whether explosion or traditional headacheball demolition would be cheaper, all the remaining tenants were moved to 11 buildings, and on March 16, 1972 a demolition experiment levelled three buildings in the center of the project. Despite some last-minute rehabilitationplans, in 1973 H.U.D. decided to demolish the rest of the project, and finally finished it off in 1976.
Rise of the Pruitt-lgoemyth therewerea numberof powerful socialandeconomicfactors Clearly at playin the riseand fallof Pruitt-Igoe. for most architects Yet the entirestorycanbe reduced a one-lineexplanation: designwas to The to blame.This interpretation in acceptance the afgainedits greatest termathof the project'sdemolition. The roots of the Pruitt-Igoe of myth,however, backto the firstyears the project's history. go The deterioration Pruitt-Igoebecameevident only a few of in afterits completion 1954, andthe localpressnotedas early as years features the exacerbated project's 1960 thatcertain design problems.'2 The skip-stop elevators galleries, frompromoting far and community for association,had provedto be opportuneenvironments violent crime.Forced walkthrough galleries reachtheirapartments, to the to residentswere threatenedand attackedby gangs,who used these spacesas hangouts.Residentswere also frequentlyattackedin the elevators. This connection betweenimputed design flawsand Pruittfirst of Igoe'sdeterioration cameto the attentionof a wide audience in 1965, when the growing notoriety of the design professionals Architectural Forum publisha secondarticleon to projectprompted In "TheCaseHistoryof a Failure," retracted James Bailey Pruitt-Igoe. all of Forum's earlier statements aboutthe project, acknowlvirtually edging that many of the featurespraisedin their 1951 articlehad to rather thanimprovements the quality life: to of proved be hazards, The undersized elevators brutally are and battered, theyreekof urinefromchildrenwho misjudged time it takesto reach the theirapartments. stoppingonly on everythirdfloor,the elBy evators offerconvenient are settingsfor crime.....The galleries anythingbut cheerfulsocialenclaves.The tenantscall them whichtheymustpassto reachtheirdoors. "gauntlets" through ...Heavy metalgrillesnow shieldthe windows,but theywere installed lateto prevent too fromfalling The threechildren out. steampipesremain both in the galleries the apartand exposed
ments, frequently inflicting severe burns. The adjoining laundry rooms are unsafe and little used. ....The storage rooms are also locked-and empty. They have been robbed of their contents so often that tenants refuseto use them.'3 To his credit, Bailey tempered his criticism of the architecture by pointing out that the problems at Pruitt-Igoewent deeper than physical design. He mentioned, in particular,the absence of adult males as heads of households, the project's notoriety, and the deficient management and maintenance. Nonetheless, Bailey'sarticlelaid the foun-
May 1991 JAE 44/3
dation for a continuous rearticulation of the Pruitt-Igoe story throughout the late sixties and earlyseventiesas the situation at continued deteriorate. to Pruitt-Igoe The trial demolition of 1972 brought Pruitt-Igoe unprecin Architecand edentedattention the architectural the national press. AIA Architects turalForum, JournalArchitecture and The Plus, Journal deall publishedarticles the failureof the supposedly on innovative Time, The Washington and TheNational Post, Life, sign features.'4 on and Observer, amongothers,reported the demolitionexperiment as These to the architecture one of the contributing causes.'5 pointed articlesrepresent first appearance the Pruitt-Igoemyth. No the of architectural features, longerconfiningtheir criticismto particular suchas the open galleries, criticsnow beganto relatethe project's the or The failure flawsin the overall to approach designphilosophy. genwas were to eralthemethatemerged thatthe architects insensitive the needsof the lowerclasspopulation weretryingto use the design and to forcea middle-class, residents. For white, lifestyleon Pruitt-Igoe an articlein Architecture arguedthat the designwas Plus example, of for simplyinappropriate the socialstructures the peoplewho were one going to live there.GeorgeKassabaum, of the projectarchitects, was quoted as saying,"Youhad middleclasswhites like myselfdesigningfor an entirelydifferentgroup."'6 The implicationwas that low-income urbanblacksconstituteda tenant groupwith special needs:They were not instilledwith the middleclassvalueof taking with and pridein the upkeepof theirenvironment, theyalsobrought them certaindestructivebehaviors. the Washington put it, As Post therewasan "incompatibility betweenthe high-rise structure the and who cameto inhabitit, only a generation removed largepoorfamilies
from the farm."17
This interpretation the demiseof Pruitt-Igoe of received strong when it appeared OscarNewman'sDefensible in reinforcement Space in the sameyearas the trialdemoliton.This seminaltext of the then and emergingdisciplineof environment behavior arguedthat there was a directrelationship betweenphysical environments human and behavior. to Newman,the widespread vandalism vioand According lenceat Pruitt-Igoe resulted fromthe presence excessive of "indefensible" Corridors weretoo long andnot visiblefromthe publicspace.i8 The residents not feelthatthesespaces"belonged" did to apartments. them and so made no effort to maintain or police them. The locatedin large,unprotected entryways, open plazas,did not allow tenantsanycontroloverwho entered buildings. the Newmanfurther arguedthatby designingpublichousingin such a way as to provide an appropriate amountof private,semiprivate, publicspace,arand chitects couldreduce violenceandvandalism the environment. in
With all the attentionbeingpaidto the project's designin the link 1970s,a strongassociative wasforgedbetweenarchitectural early flawsand Pruitt-Igoe's In deterioration. 1965JamesBaileyhadtaken of careto point out thattwo of the majorcausesof the deterioration werechronically maintenance the increasand inadequate Pruitt-Igoe of elements the storyhad of By ing poverty tenants. 1972 thesecrucial been all but forgottenin the rushto condemnthe architecture. is It the privileging thesedesignproblems of overthe much moredeeply embeddedeconomicand socialones that constitutes coreof the the myth. Pruitt-Igoe The myth ignoresthe connectionbetweenPruitt-Igoe's problemsand the fiscalcrisisof the St. LouisHousingAuthority, what or failure" American of EugeneMeehanhas calledthe "programmed Politicaland socialambivalence publichousing to publichousing.'9 in had resulted a tokenhousingprogram fisburdened impossible by calmanagement constraints. federal The PublicHousingAdministration alsoimpeded on by publichousingefforts insisting unrealistically low constructioncosts. The myth also omits the subordination of Federal publichousingto postwarurbanredevelopment programs. dollars slumsandassisted interests helpedcitiesclearunsightly private in developing innercity land. Publichousingprojects valuable were confinedto the unwantedsitesin the heartof the slums,and develto thosedisplaced the wholeoped at high densities accommodate by saleclearance poorneighborhoods. of The myth alsoignoresthe connectionbetweensocialindifferenceto the poverty innercityblacks the declineof Pruitt-Igoe. of and In 1970 sociologistLeeRainwater wroteBehindGhetto based Walls, on the findingsof a massiveparticipant observer study conducted Rainwater that duringthe mid-1960sat Pruitt-Igoe.20 argued the violenceandvandalism occurred the project that at werean understandableresponse its residents povertyand racial to In discrimination. by his view architectural designwas neitherthe causenor the curefor theseproblems.Improvedhousingconditionsand othereffortsdirectedat changing behavior the poorwere,in his opinion,usethe of lessif not accompanied efforts raise to theirincomelevel. by This evidence directlycontradictsthe Pruitt-Igoemyth by the of demonstrating significance the politicaland economicsources of Pruitt-Igoe's decline.In addition,it reveals that the type of argumentproposed Defensible in is a subtleformof blaming victhe Space tim. The idea of defensiblespace is basedon the assumptionthat certain"populations" unavoidably bringwith them behavioral problemsthathaveto be designed This kindof argument doesnot against. questionwhy publichousingprojectstend to be plaguedby violent crimein the firstplace.It naturalizes presenceof crimeamong the
low-income rather thanseeingit as a productof institu- premise the Modernmovement's that architectural socialrevoluand populations economicandracial tion had backfired. of tionalized Insteadof furthering development a new the oppression. both con"thecity of modernarchitecture, as psychological society, struct and as physical model, had been rendered tragically ridiculous... city of LudwigHibersheimer Le Corbusier, the and the Pruitt-lgoeand the end of Modernism the celebrated CIAMand advertised the AthensCharter, by by city evidence multiple of socialandeconomiccauses former city of deliveranceis everydayfound increasinglyinadDespitethe extensive to do of Pruitt-Igoe's the deterioration, Pruitt-Igoe mythhasalsobecomea equate."23 speThoughRoweand Koetter not refer Pruitt-Igoe For of and literature. example, the implication of the photograph'sinclusion is clear. truism the environment behavior John cifically, of a social-factors is textbook,uses Pruitt-Igoe usedas an example this"cityof modernarchitecture" Pipkin'sUrbanSocialSpace, standard and of the lackof fit whose revolutionfailed.It presentsPruitt-Igoeas a productof the as an exampleof indefensible space Pruitt-Igoe the "In Le and between and high-rise buildings lowerclasssocialstructure. social ideasof Hibersheimer, Corbusier, CIAMand implicates of Socialstructures disin- inadequacy theirideasin the demolition the project. have of hasbeena failure. terms,publichousing are in Only one yearafterthe publicationof CollageCity,Charles projects ripefor high-rise settings....Many tegrated the desolate in this When built, Jencksfurtheradvanced interpretation TheLanguage Post One of the mostnotorious...was demolition. of Pruitt-Igoe. it epitomizedthe ills of public ModernArchitecture.In the introduction to his discussion of it won an architectural prize,but... that the demolitionof Pruitt-Igoe Postmodernism, Jencksasserted housing."21 of modernarchitecture. Roweand Koetter, Like the one ex- represents death it This passage notablebecause illustrates particular is of mis- he associated with Pruitt-Igoe the rationalist principles CIAM,and mythhasgrownby incorporating ampleof how the Pruitt-Igoe of Accordwith information. Though it is commonly accorded the epithet particularly the urban designprinciples Le Corbusier. Pruitt-Igoeneverwon any kind of architectural ing to Jencks,even thoughthe projectwas designedwith the inten"award-winning," St. by prize.An earlier Louishousingproject the sameteamof archi- tion of instillinggood behaviorin the tenants,it was incapableof their did tects,the John CochranGarden Apartments, win two architec- accommodating socialneeds: At turalawards. some point thisprizeseemsto havebeenincorrectly to was This strangememorylapseon the partof attributed Pruitt-Igoe. to according the most progressive Pruitt-Igoe constructed Infromthe American ideasof CIAM...and it won an award is of in architects theirdiscussions Pruitt-Igoe extremely significant. in when it wasdesigned 1951. It consisted to stituteof Architects in the mid-1970s, Pruitt-Igoebeganincreasingly be Beginning of elegant slab blocks fourteen storeys high, with rational of that usedasan illustration the argument the International was Style in "streets the air"(whichweresafefromcars,but, as it turned The of for the failure Pruitt-Igoe. fictitious prizeis essenresponsible whichLe as it of tialto thisdimension the myth,because paintsPruitt-Igoe the out, not safefromcrime);"sun,spaceandgreenery", essential of urbanism" Corbusier calledthe "three monument. iconicmodernist (instead joys and of conventional failof demisewith the perceived The association Pruitt-Igoe's streets, space,which gardens semi-private of and he banished).It had a separation pedestrian vehicular had uresof the Modernmovement begunas earlyas 1972. In the afsuchas of the termathof the project'sdemolition, severalwriterssuggestedthat traffic, provision playspace,and localamenities substitutes crechesand gossipcenters-all rational needswas typicalof modernarchitecture. to residents' laundries, insensitivity for traditionalpatterns.24 of "the calledthe demolition Pruitt-Igoe modThe Architects Journal failure."22 With the critiqueof most grandiloquent ern movement's to Theseusesof the Pruitt-Igoe that in Modernism symboladdedsignificantly the emerging the 1970s,it wasnot surprising a numwho can be looselytermedPostmodern, Pruitt-Igoe berof criticsand theorists, by myth.Likethe defensible popularized spaceargument in to use the projectin their writing to representthe Modern OscarNewman,theseaccountsfailedto locatePruitt-Igoe its hisbegan that evidence economiccrisisand contextand thereby torical movement. ignored demise. in of Pruitt-Igoe a critiqueof racialdiscrimination The firstimportant playedthe largestrole in the project's appearance in intentions decamein 1976 when Colin Roweand FredKoetterused Now, theyaddeda set of ideasaboutthe architects' Modernism the photographof the demolitionin their introductionto Collage signingthe project.Both accountspresentedthe projectas the cathe in monument(Jencks particular of perpetuating City.This sectionof the bookwasdevotedto a demonstration the nonicalmodernist
May 1991 JAE 44/3 168
mistaken ideathatit was an award-winning and werewillingto locateprojects on design).They described businessinterests city officials the project Modernist onlyin formal as not and the urbanperiphery then the high-density, would terms,but in political high-rise projects socialtermsaswell,as reflecting agenda socialengineering. an for be unnecessary. BauercriticizedYamasaki for his architectural less inten- viewsthanfor his politics;he was too willingto give in to prevailing These usesof Pruitt-Igoe the misrepresented designers' tions and the extentto which the architects controlledthe project's profit-motivated and redevelopment housingpolicy. As the summary Pruitt-Igoe's of much In his statements thisdebate, in Yamasaki fits historydemonstrates, hardly the image design. socialreformer of the project's wasdetermined the St. LouisHousingAu- of the radical by depictedby the Pruitt-Igoe myth. His design The in and PublicHousingAdministration. architects firmdid indeedadoptparticular features orderto conform thority the federal design and to isolated densi- to the latesttrends wasinsensitive the potential effects those of hadno controloverthe project's location,its excessive ties, the elimination of amenities,or the use of high-riseelevator features.The architectsalso incorrectlyassumedthat the galleries in interaction whatwasboundto be buildings.Their taskwas limitedto providingthe form of the indi- wouldhelppromotecommunity as a harshenvironment. beforemakinganyof thesedecisions,they as Yet vidualbuildings incorporating muchamenity possible, and given hadagreed workwithinthe framework the large-scale, to of the restricted high-rise, budget. did In carrying this task,the architects follow the formal high-densityprojectmandatedby urbanredevelopment out practices. the conventions of modern architecture. Pruitt-Igoe was one of Ratherthansocialreformers destroying publichousingprogram so & the architects wereessentially Yamasaki Hellmuth'sfirstmajorcommissions, it is with theirmegalomaniac Leinweber, designs, pason of of thattheywishedto makean impression theirarchitectural sivein theiracceptance the dominant certain practices theirsociety. the combinedwith skip-stop elevators, exDespite its dubious authenticityor historicalaccuracy,the peers.The glazedgalleries tensiveopen spacesbetween the slabs,and the minimalistsurface Pruitt-Igoe myth had achievedthe statusof architectural dogmaby failure fromthe inas the late 1970s.The ideathatPruitt-Igoe's resulted interestin Modernism reflected prevailing the treatment certainly of audience elaborated CLAM. However,the use of theseformalconventions sensitivity orthodoxmodernist by designfound a receptive for intentions and for and becamean illustration manyPostmodern anti-Modern had that does not demonstrate the architects particular MinoruYamasaki ex- texts.PeterBlake,in FormFollows Fiasco: Architecture statements socialreform.In fact,in published WhyModern effect Hasn't Worked, that echoedthe assertion Pruitt-Igoe followed"Villedoubt that the high-riseformwould havea beneficial pressed Radieuse" therewas "nowaythis on publichousingtenants. designideas.As a result,he argued, in couldbe madehumanly in a series articles theJournal depressing of habitable" communiand Thesestatements project of appeared It in a debatewith the progressive tiesof high-rises inherently are doomed.27 alsobecame convenient a in whichYamasaki engaged Housing for Tom Wolfe to includein his attackon the importingof Bauer.25 Yamasaki defended de- symbol Catherine high-rise housingreformer to 1930sarchitecture the UnitedStatesafterWorld merits,but as the bestpossibleresponse German-inspired sign, not on its architectural of to as and Wolfe repeated by now the to whathe perceived the socialimperative slumclearance the WarII.28In FromBauhaus OurHouse Giventhe high cost of generally fictionthat the projectwas an award for economicnecessity urbanredevelopment. winner,and accepted it of that urban landoccupiedby slumhousing,he argued, is mosteconomi- then addeda fabrication his own, asserting in 1971 a general smallparcels buildat high densities. and Yet meetingwas held at which the residentscalledfor blowing up the callyefficientto acquire was of Yamasaki skeptical the value buildings.29 despiteits economicadvantages, of the high-riseas a form for masshousing:"thelow buildingwith livmoresatisfactory multi-story than low densityis unquestionably I'd ing. ...IfI hadno economicor sociallimitations, solveallmy prob- The Pruitt-lgoemyth as mystification He lemswith one-story buildings."26 defended high-rise designas the to economicandpolicyconditions. Thereis clearly Why is the Pruitt-Igoe onlywayto respond external mythso powerful? ampleeviIn her defenseof low-risehousing,Catherine Bauersuggested dence that architectural the designwas but one, and probably least of that the policy of clearingslums and then rehousinglow-income important, several factorsin the demiseof the project.Why then in is the has the architecture central projects not necessarily city communitybeen so insistentthat the failureof populations high-density was resultof economicimperatives a consciouschoiceon the partof Pruitt-Igoe its own fault? but innercityprojects the resultof makare At one level,the myth can be understood policy-makers. High-density simplyas a weapon to If in an ongoingconflictbetweendifferent schemes: factions withinthe architecing publichousingsubordinate urbanredevelopment
1 69 Bristol
The tureprofession. two mostcentral of critiques the designof PruittIgoe have come from successormovementsto High Modernism: and and For of Postmodernism, environment behavior. proponents these new approaches, such as OscarNewman or CharlesJencks, a embodiment all the allegedfailof provides convenient Pruitt-Igoe are of However,thoughthesesuccessors critical ings of Modernism. the modernist to the designof publichousing,theydo not approach notion that it is at the levelof design that questionthe fundamental or succeeds fails.They attribute problems pubthe of publichousing lic housingto architectural failure,and proposeas a solutiona new to design.They do not in anysignificant acknowledge approach way the political-economic socialcontextforthe failure Pruitt-Igoe. and of This is becausethe myth is more than simply the resultof debate within architectural It culture: serves a muchmoreprofoundlevel at the interests the architecture of as profession a whole. As we haveseenin tracing riseof the Pruitt-Igoe the myth,the architects' version consistently has on insisted the primary significance of the project's overall denies designin its demise.This interpretation the existence larger of endemicto St. Louis'publichousing problems morecausalpowerto architecture than to program.By attributing in flawed crises the localeconomy,or to classoppression and policies, the mythconceals existence contextual the of factors structurracism, decisionsand fabricates centralrolefor architeca ing the architects' or of turein the success failure publichousing.It placesthe architect in the positionof authority overprovidinglow-incomehousingfor the poor. This presentation the architect the figureof authority of as in of Pruitt-Igoe reinforced linkingthe project's the history is failure by to the defectsof High Modernism. The claimthatPruitt-Igoe failed because wasbasedon an agenda socialreform, it for fromthe derived ideas of Le Corbusierand the CIAM, not only presupposesthat physicaldesignis centralto the successor failureof publichousing, but alsothatthe designwas implemented carry the architects' to out socialagenda. Whatthisobscures the architects' is in passivity the face of a muchlarger that socialreform, agenda hasits rootsnot in radical but in the politicaleconomyof post-WorldWarII St. Louisand in of was by practices racial segregation. Pruitt-Igoe shaped the strategies of ghetto containmentand innercity revitalization-strategies that did not emanatefrom the architects, ratherfrom the systemin but whichtheypractice. Pruitt-Igoe The not myththerefore only inflates the powerof the architect effectsocialchange,but it masks exto the tent to which the profession implicated, is in inextricably, structures andpractices it is powerless change. that to with its functionof promotingthe powerof Simultaneously the architect, myth servesto disguisethe actualpurposeand imthe of publichousingby diverting debateto the questionof the plication
May 1991 JAE 44/3 170
solutionsto whatare design.By continuingto promotearchitectural fundamentally problemsof class and race, the myth concealsthe of completeinadequacy contemporary publichousingpolicy.It has quite usefullyshiftedthe blamefrom the sourcesof housingpolicy andplacedit on the designprofessions. furthering misconcepthis By tion, the myth disguisesthe causesof the failureof publichousing, the and alsoensures continuedparticipation the architecture of professionin tokenand palliative effortsto address problemof povthe The myth is a mystification benefitseveryone that erty in America. thoseto whompublichousingprograms supposare involved, except directed. edly
1. St. Louis City Plan Commission, Comprehensive Plan (St. Louis, City 1947), pp. 27-34; JamesNeal Primm, Lion of the Valley(Boulder, CO: Pruett, 1981), pp. 472-473. 2. "Progress Decay? LouisMust Choose:The SordidHousingStory," or St. St. LouisPost-Dispatch, March3, 1950, PartFourin a Series. in 3. For the role playedby the publichousingprogram St. Louisredevelor opmentplans,see RogerMontgomery, PolicyFailure SocietalSymp"Pruitt-Igoe: Midwest: tom," in BarryCheckowayand Carl V. Patton, eds., TheMetropolitan and of (Urbana: PolicyProblems Prospectsfor University IllinoisPress,1985), Change "TheGhost of Pruitt-Igoe" pp. 230-239; and KateBristoland RogerMontgomery, (paperdeliveredat the AnnualMeetingof the Associationof CollegiateSchoolsof of Planning,Buffalo,NY, October28, 1988). On the relationship publichousingto urbanrenewalmoregenerally, MarkWeiss, "TheOriginsand Legacyof Urban see in Renewal," P. Clavell,J. Forester,and W. Goldsmith,eds., Urbanand Regional Planning in an Age ofAusterity(New York:PergamonPress, 1980); RichardO. Administration of Davies,Housing (Columbia: Reform Duringthe Truman University Missouri Press, 1966); and Arnold Hirsch, Makingthe SecondGhetto:Raceand in 1940-1966 (Cambridge: Press,1983). Housing Chicago, University Cambridge 4. EugeneMeehan, TheQualityof Federal FailPolicymaking: Programmed urein PublicHousing (Columbia: Universityof MissouriPress,1979), p. 71; James Architectural Forum123 (December1965): Bailey,"TheCaseHistoryof a Failure," p. 23. AnnualReport 5. U.S. PublicHousingAdministration, D.C., (Washington, 1951); Davies,Housing pp. Reform, 126-132. 6. "SlumSurgeryin St. Louis," Architectural Forum94 (April1951): pp. 128-136; "Four Vast Housing Projects for St. Louis: Hellmuth, Obata and Record (August1956):pp. 182-189. 120 Kassabaum, Inc.,"Architectural Vast HousingProjects St. Louis," 185. for 7. "Four p. 8. Meehan,Quality, 71. p. 9. Montgomery, "Pruitt-Igoe," 235-239. pp. 10. Meehan,Quality, 60-63, 65-67, 74-83. pp. 11. In 1965 the U.S. PublicHousingAdministration (P.H.A.)was incorporated into the newly created Department of Housing and Urban Development (H.U.D.). 12. "What's St. November14, Wrongwith High-Rise?," Louis Post-Dispatch, 1960. 13. Bailey,"CaseHistory," 22-23. pp.
14. "St. Louis Blues,"Architectural Forum136 (May 1972): 18; Architect's that Journal (uly 26, 1972);WilburThompson,"Problems Sproutin the Shadowof No Growth," Journal60(December1973); "TheExperiment AIA That Failed," Architecture (October1973). Plus 15. "TheTragedyof Pruitt-Igoe," Time,December27, 1971, p. 38; Jerome of The Curry,"Collapse a Failure," NationalObserver, 20, 1972, p. 24; Andrew May B. Wilson, "DemolitionMarksUltimateFailure Pruitt-Igoe of Project,"Washington Post,August27, 1973, p. 3. 16. "TheExperiment That Failed," 18. p. 17. Wilson, "Demolition," 3. p. 18. OscarNewman, Defensible (New York:Macmillan,1972) pp. 56Space 58,66,77,83,99, 101-108, 188,207. 19. Meehan,Quality, 83-87, 194-198. pp. 20. Lee Rainwater,Behind GhettoWalls;BlackFamiliesin a FederalSlum AldinePublishing,1970), pp. 9, 403. (Chicago: 21. Mark LaGory and John Pipkin, Urban Social Space(Belmont, CA: Wadsworth,1981), p. 263.
22. Architect'sJournal 180. p. 23. Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter, CollageCity (Cambridge,MA: MIT Press,1976), pp. 4, 6. 24. CharlesJencks, TheLanguage Post-Modern Architecture (New York: of Rizzoli,1977), pp. 9-10. 25. Minoru Yamasaki,"High Buildings for Public Housing?"Journalof Catherine BauerQuesBauer,"LowBuildings? Housing9 (1952): p. 226; Catherine tions Mr. Yamasaki's Journal Arguments," ofHousing9 (1952): p. 227. 26. Yamasaki, "HighBuildings," 226. p. 27. Peter Blake, Form Follows Fiasco: WhyModernArchitectureHasn't Worked AtlanticMonthlyPress,1977), pp. 80-81. (Boston: 28. Tom Wolfe, From Bauhaus to Our House (New York: Simon and Schuster,1981), pp. 73-74. 29. Actuallyin the late seventiesa local community redevelopment group that includedformerPruitt-Igoe residents madea proposalto buy and renovate four of the buildings,but wereturneddown by H.U.D. MaryComerio,"Pruitt-Igoe and OtherStories," Education (Summer,1981):pp. 26-31. 34 Journal ofArchitectural
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