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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Modern architecture died in St. Louis, Missouri on July 15, 1972 at 3:32 pm when the infamous Pruitt-Igoe scheme, or rather several of its slab blocks, were given the final coup de grace by dynamite.” -- Charles Jencks

Pruitt-Igoe was an urban housing project built in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. It was frequently criticized by business and real estate interests, and is often used as an example of the failure of American public housing and urban renewal.

Controversy over the project remains, based mostly on racial and social-class perspectives. Similar projects were highly successful in other larger cities, but St. Louis has its unique character and political climate. This was elaborated upon in the Harvard University study on public housing in American cities, and in reports by actual residents (see bibliography). During the Nixon administration, Pruitt-Igoe was widely publicized as a failure of government involvement in urban renewal, and the destruction of the buildings was dramatized in the media to convince the American public that 'government intervention' in social problems only leads to waste, and to justify cutbacks on social and economic equalization programs. Wealthy St. Louisans had also objected strongly to the racial integration, and the resulting decrease in property values. Similar projects in other cities, however, were quite successful in terms of increasing quality of life for residents, and reducing racial tensions.

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 modernism died'. Footage of the dramatized demolition of Pruitt-Igoe was incorporated into the film Koyaanisqatsi.

Background and development

Designed in 1951 by architect Minoru Yamasaki (who would later design the New York World Trade Center of 1972-2001). Originally, the city planned two partitions: Pruitt for black residents, and Igoe for whites. But as segregation was ruled unconstitutional in the 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, the project was opened as racially integrated. But within two years, most white residents had found the means to relocate.

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 breeding grounds for 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 cited the failure of Pruitt-Igoe as an example of how planned urban communities sometimes fail. The complex had been designed as an attempt to emulate public housing projects in New York City, but with little regard for social and economic differences between the two cities. Explanations for the failure of Pruitt-Igoe are complex. While Yamasaki's architectural design often is blamed, economic decline of St. Louis as wealthier residents left for the suburbs, losses of the Vietnam War, and politicized local opposition to government housing projects played a role in the project's decline.

Only after tenants petitioned for their installation, playgrounds were added between the buildings. The inhabitants of the Pruitt-Igoe complex organized a fairly active tenant association, which worked to bring about community enterprises such as craft rooms for the women of the complex to get together, socialize, and create ornaments, quilts and statues for sale.

The 1972 demolition of the buildings signaled the end of the lifestyle of Pruitt-Igoe residents.

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; removal of Pruitt-Igoe's concrete foundations could be costly.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Pruitt–Igoe" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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