Why is Modern Architecture to Blame? The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

It’s almost a truism in the art and architectural world that the detonation of the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex in St. Louis was the moment that Modernism ended.

The movie poster.

It was a theory first propelled into the limelight by the postmodernist theorist Charles Jencks, who wrote in his 1977 book, The Language of Post-Modern Architecture, that the destruction of Pruitt-Igoe was “the day Modern architecture died.”

The idea was parroted by others, like Robert Hughes, who included it in his popular art and architectural history, Shock of the New (video segment), as a convenient way to mark the end of something that they wanted to paint as a failure. The problem is that the fixation on the architecture of Pruitt-Igoe has blinded us to the real problems that led to the decay and eventual demise of the community that once called the complex home. Enter The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, a documentary which “seeks to set the historical record straight. To examine the interests involved in Pruitt-Igoe’s creation. To re-evaluate the rumors and the stigma. To implode the myth.”

During an interview with Rust Wire, the film’s director explained what myth he is referring to in the title of his documentary:

When we are discussing the Pruit-Igoe Myth, what we’re referring to is the idea –number one- that the architecture was to blame for what happened at Pruitt-Igoe, or that –there’s several here- or that the federal government was to blame, because this was a federal project, therefor Pruitt-Igoe declined so precipitously, or that it’s the residents. You often hear this in conversation, that the residents simply tore up something that was gifted to them back in the 50s, and 20 years later, because the resident population, because they were poor, because they were rural, or whatever, they didn’t know how to maintain this building. So that’s really kind of the myth that we’re addressing here.


The Pruitt-Igoe Myth: an Urban History – Film Trailer from the Pruitt-Igoe Myth on Vimeo.

This film looks like a must-see. Also, if you have some extra time, take look at this short YouTube video that combines footage of Pruitt-Igoe’s destruction with music by Erik Satie. A surprisingly poetic combination.

Hat tip @starwarsmodern

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