The Oxford Film Festival is this weekend! A lot of the films look great though one that stands out is The Pruitt-Igoe Myth: An Urban History.
Pruitt-Igoe Housing Project was a St. Louis high-rise urban housing complex completed in the mid-1950’s. It was named for St. Louisans Wendell O. Pruitt, a Tuskegee Airman, and William L. Igoe, a former U.S. Congressman. The 33 eleven-story buildings were designed by the firm of Leinweber, Yamasaki & Hellmuthwere, and represented the first major commission for Minoru Yamasaki, who would later go on to design the New York World Trade Center. The housing development garnered much praise when new but by the late 1960’s the Federal Department of Housing was urging residents to leave and by 1971 decided to demolish the complex.
While no such major urban renewal housing project existed in Mississippi to my knowledge, we can see many of the same principles applied to smaller scale urban renewal attempts from the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s in our state. Pruitt-Igoe is a case study for a plethora of topics not limited to: Architecture, Housing, Race Relations, White Flight, Segregation, Urban Renewal, Federal Spending, Crime, Poverty, and of course Preservation.
How did something that seemed to be the solution to so many problems end up compounding into something so much worse? Is it fair to blame so much of the failure on the Architecture of the complex? As Preservationists, would we have fought to save the neighborhoods that were demolished to make way for Pruitt-Igoe, and then fought for the complex’s preservation when it faced demolition? Would investment in the older neighborhoods have been more successful than wholesale renewal? While I know these answers are never easy to determine, hopefully the film can shed some light on the conversation.
It has two showing times 4:00PM on Friday and 12:45PM on Saturday. If any one is attending the Oxford Film Festival this weekend I would encourage you to see this film and hopefully share your comments here on MissPres.
Learn more about The Pruitt-Igoe Myth: An Urban History at http://www.pruitt-igoe.com/
Learn more about The Oxford Film Festival at: http://www.oxfordfilmfest.com/
Categories: African American History, Architectural Research, Demolition/Abandonment, Historic Preservation, Modernism, Preservation Education, Preservation People/Events, Recent Past
I’m heading up to the festival this weekend, and can’t wait to see this! I’ll give a full report.
Great! Can’t wait to hear about it.
Thomas, where did these striking images come from? That header image is really amazing!
Many of the photographs came from the films website http://www.pruitt-igoe.com. The header image came from the wikipedia entry for Pruitt-Igoe. Its actually one of a set taken of the demolition with a high-speed camera. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/98/Pruitt-igoe_collapse-series.jpg
A recent article about the film…
I would love to see this! Will be waiting for everyone’s commentary.
Preservationists, if the Pruitt-Igoe situation occured today, would fight to preserve the neighborhood Pruitt-Igoe replaced, as they should. If the towers were being demolished today, preservationists would fight to preserve Pruitt-Igoe, which is the last thing that anyone should do. What preservationists should have done (and should do today with those monolithic project towers) is recycled the bricks and metal casement windows and built rowhouses with those materials. That is what should have been done with Suttle Hall at MSU, which was constructed like an inner-city project tower, possessed the atmosphere of a seedy motel, and had all the aesthetic value of a glorified Soviet apartment tower. Suttle Hall and the housing projects like it should be salvaged for their materials but not preserved in any way that will subject people to living or spending any time in them, unless those people are convicted felons or politicians (or both).
Investment in older neighborhoods is almost always, in 99% of all cases, the best thing to do historically, socially, and economically; none of which matters to those with the power to actually invest in those older neighborhoods, i.e. local housing authorities. You can see plenty of that in Mississippi.
Mr. White, I once spent a whole summer in Suttle and didn’t once feel as I was living in a Soviet housing project or or seedy motel and I was never compelled to commit a felony (of course the elevator was often broken), and I even survived to rally for preservation of old neighborhoods – but I do live in a Brutalist highrise building and love it. Looking forward to seeing this film, of course!
I agree that some preservationists today might fight to preserve the Pruitt-Igoe towers, but many wouldn’t–this is a rift within the preservation community, and is debated forcefully on both sides. Should we preserve “failures”? More broadly, the question of preserving places that do not personify the American Dream, places of poverty, of segregation, is also very much in the air. Here in Jackson, the Farish Street neighborhood stood for preservation and against the type of urban renewal typified by Pruitt, but today stands half (or more) abandoned and is often brought up as an argument against preservation. I don’t know what the answer is, I just know that it’s not an easy one.
Comparing this massive urban renewal housing project with Suttle is a bit of stretch. Just because both were in a Modernist, minimalist style doesn’t mean they had the same meaning for their occupants. For Pruitt occupants, it was the end of the road, a symbol of their failure to move up in society, for Suttle, it was the symbol of college freedom for thousands of young men like TomL. Dormitories have always been fairly minimal, especially on the interiors, and to me, knowing college boys at least of the 1960s-1990s, a concrete and metal bunker makes perfect sense.
The idea of preserving “Failures” is an interesting one. It can be an incredibly important reminder of where we’ve been and as well as a warning of what can happen. Should Failures only be preserved as they were originally conceived or would preservationist support their improvement? Preservation of places like concentration camps I think have a valuable story to tell, but I wouldn’t suggest that they be rehabilitated for another purpose and would condemn them being used for their original purpose.
If preservation of Pruitt Igoe were still an option how much should be preserved? Is one building enough? Or is the integrity lost if even one of the thirty three buildings removed? While a constant reminder can be valuable, the risk is also run of having a needless albatross.
Pruitt Igoe might have had a chance with some minor changes. Replace the Skip-Stop elevators with ones that stop on every floor. Enlargement of the deliberately small apartments( Pruitt Igoe was never more than 60% capacity). Installation of full sized appliances. But these thoughts only come from the understanding of the Pruitt Igoe failure.