Building a model of a building you are planning to destroy and that has caused so much controversy is an odd and sobering project. The hours spent building it gave me time to contemplate an essay I was writing, “Housing for the Rest of Us, A Non-Manifesto,” which can be found here. I revisit Pruitt-Igoe to take on issues of housing, many still relevant today, as revealed in these two graphs.
It is Minoru Yamasaki’s misfortune that the two works he is best known for, the World Trade Center and the Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex, are best known for their collapse. The World Trade Center, or its site, has attained the status of a shrine, so reflection upon its design and influence will have to be postponed for another time. Postmodern apologist Charles Jencks hailed the demolition of Pruitt-Igoe as the death—prematurely—of Modernism, and critical smoke from that debate still lingers. In both cases, however, the major factors that led to their destruction came from structural tensions outside the buildings, not within, from design flaws in the larger world. And many of the same forces that shaped Pruitt-Igoe, social and economic, direct the design of homes for most of us today and determine where we live and how well.
Unfortunately, I built it too well. The model was difficult to demolish, and I couldn’t simulate accurately the pictures we have come to know so well. More pictures of the model and the actual photographs come after the break.
Photographs of the demolition, taken from the back of this building: