metaphysical & metaphorical musings : art, architecture, and arithmetic

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Simple Project

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.


  1. I'm loving this project, Walton. I think just examining differences in these two projects would make for a fascinating project.

    Are you familiar with Le Corbusier? He's often considered the emblem of modernist architectural design, and his writing (the book I know him for is Toward a New Architecture) focuses on utopian results through modernist city design (glass to let in light and air, greenery to cover sky-high apartments, rationally laid out, from the clog and traffic of the 19th century city. Sounds like it could be useful?

  2. Todd, I'm glad you like the project. I'm starting to think that this is less about the architecture itself and more about the values informing it, so Le Corbusier may help make a nice, solid bridge. Thanks for the suggestion.