Candide —
Journal for Architectural Knowledge

The Case of Pruitt-Igoe: On the Demolition of the US Public

The demolition of a number of buildings that formed part of the Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex in St Louis in 1972 is, even today, a central reference point in architectural and urban planning debates. The image of the complex collapsing in on itself, reproduced countless times, has become a universal symbol of failure; not only of modern architecture and urban planning, but also of federally-funded public housing, and striking proof of the failure of a seemingly mistaken welfare policy. However, numerous omissions underlie this unambiguous assessment of Pruitt-Igoe’s meaning: the debates ignored both the political conditions under which the complex was built and the collective actions of the residents, as well as the various attempts at re-design. A reconstruction of the conflict-ridden history of Pruitt-Igoe makes it clear though that the dominant interpretation of its failure has no analytical function. The thesis put forward below is that such an analysis neither points to a proof of the failure of modern planning nor of the achievements of the welfare state, but must, by denying all the conflicts and contradictions, rather be regarded as a part of the construction of this very failure.