An increasingly urbanized world must eventually confront the problem of space, and high-rise architecture in areas with limited ground sprawl seems to be an obvious and convenient solution. This is the situation in which St. Louis' Pruitt-Igoe Projects were conceptualized, tested, and ultimately failed.
Pruitt-Igoe’s modernist deployment of living space architecturally elicited a disaster that is social rather than overtly physical--the unforeseen consequences of social engineering through spatial layout. Destruction was the response, not the disaster, inverting the normal causal pattern of destructive accident and policy formation. In this case, the accident was social and the policy was demolition of the disastrous space.
Pruitt-Igoe's individual and contextual history constitutes a sort of accident-cascade brought about by a cycle of physical and social decay and changing demands placed on habitable urban space. What was intended to be an ideal community organization in vertical space exhibited an unforeseen emergent property, an accident inherent within Pruitt-Igoe's essence as community housing.
What began as a modernist architecture tinged with utopianism never even reached full occupancy, and ended as an abject failure after only 22 years (from first occupation to total demolition). Originally costing $36 million (60% over the average for national housing projects at the time), Pruitt-Igoe’s physical and social decay began almost immediately, and over its lifespan costs expanded to $57 million. Meanwhile, the adjacent Carr Village projects with similar demographic makeup, but different architectural design, remained fully occupied and free of trouble.