«The day in which the modern architecture died» | Íñigo García Odiaga

Pruitt-Igoe’s presentation on the part of the company Leinweber, Yamasaki & Hellmuth

Pruitt-Igoe was a great urban development project developed between 1954 and 1955 in San Luis’ American city, Missouri.

In 1950, the city entrusted to the company Leinweber, Yamasaki & Hellmuth to design Pruitt-Igoe, a new urban development complex that owed his name to Wendell Or. Pruitt, an Afro-American natural pilot of San Luis who fought in the Second World war, and William L. Igoe, former American Congressmember.

The city planned two divisions: the homes of the captain W. O. Pruitt for the black residents, and the apartments William L. Igoe for the whites. Previously to the construction of the complex, the area was known as Soto-Carr’s neighborhood, a ghetto of the black community of extreme poverty. The complex urban development Pruitt-Igoe was composed of 33 buildings of eleven plants each one placed near San Luis’ north, Missouri.

The project was designed by the architect Minoru Yamasaki

The project was designed by the architect Minoru Yamasaki, who later would design the World Trade Center of New York. This one was the Yamasaki’s first great work, realized under the supervision and the restrictions imposed by the Federal Authority of Public Housing (PHA, Public Housing Authority). The initial offer was consisting of a building mixture of great height, median and fall. It was accepted by the authorities of San Luis, but it was exceeding the budgetary federal limits imposed by the PHA. The agency controlled and imposed a uniform building of eleven plants. The shortage of materials provoked by the War of Korea and the tensions in the Congress they made the controls of the PHA more strict.

In 1951, Architectural Forum praised Yamasaki’s original offer and qualified it as «the best apartment of great height» of the year. The total density was fixed in a moderate level of 50 units by acre, in agreement with the beginning of planning of Him Corbusier and the International Congress of Modern Architecture, the buildings were organized in eleven plants in an attempt of destining the gardens and the ground floor for common zones.

Pruitt-Igoe were originally designed as separate, segregated housing projects | Source: The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

Finalizado en 1955, Pruitt-Igoe contenía 33 edificios de once plantas cada uno en un área de 23 hectáreas. El complejo albergaba 2.870 apartamentos, convirtiéndose en uno de los más grandes de los Estados Unidos. Los apartamentos eran extremadamente pequeños, con reducidos accesorios de cocina. Los ascensores skip-stop sólo paraban en la primera, cuarta, séptima y décima planta, obligando a los vecinos a utilizar las escaleras en un intento de descongestionar el uso del ascensor. Las plantas bajas fueron equipadas con grandes corredores, lavanderías, salas comunes y conductos de basura.

Pruitt-Igoe, 1953 | U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Pese a los recortes iniciales del gobierno federal, el coste final de Pruitt-Igoe se elevó a 36 millones de dólares, un 60% por encima de la media nacional en vivienda pública en ese momento. Los conservadores atribuyeron el exceso de coste a los salarios inflados de los trabajadores por la influencia de los sindicatos, y a la innecesaria instalación de un costoso sistema de calefacción; estos sobrecostes provocaron una serie de recortes arbitrarios en otras partes fundamentales de los edificios.

No obstante, Pruitt-Igoe tuvo, al principio, buenas críticas ya que era visto como un gran avance en la renovación urbana. Pese a la pobre calidad de los edificios, los proveedores de materiales hacían referencia a Pruitt-Igoe en sus anuncios publicitarios, aprovechando la exposición nacional del proyecto urbanístico.

El complejo urbanístico Pruitt-Igoe estaba compuesto de 33 edificios de once plantas cada uno situados cerca del norte de San Luis, Missouri | U.S.D.H.U.D

Poco tiempo después de haberse construido, las condiciones de vida en Pruitt-Igoe comenzaron a decaer; y en la década de 1960, la zona se encontraba en extrema pobreza, con altos índices de criminalidad y segregación, lo que provocó la reacción de los medios internacionales ante el espectacular declive del barrio.

A las tres de la tarde del 16 de marzo de 1972 —menos de 20 años después de su construcción— el primero de los 33 gigantescos edificios fue demolido por el gobierno federal. Los otros 32 restantes fueron derruidos en los siguientes dos años. Las dimensiones del fracaso de Pruitt-Igoe, que se convirtió en un icono emblemático, provocó un intenso debate sobre política de vivienda pública.

Pruitt-Igoe, 1974 | U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

The project Pruitt-Igoe was one of the first demolitions of buildings of modern architecture and his destruction was described by the landscape architect, theoretically and historian of the architecture Charles Jencks as «the day in which the modern architecture died».

The engraved material of the demolition was included in the movie Koyaanisqatsi, of Godfrey Reggio with Philip Glass’s music, which composed a piece of eight minutes of duration and which received the name of the project.

April, 1972. The Pruitt-Igoe’s second demolition was televised and followed other one on March 16 | U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

íñigo garcía odiaga . architect

san sebastián. october 2013

Íñigo García Odiaga

Arquitecto. Editor de NOMU. 1/5 del estudio de arquitectura VAUMM. Vivo en Donosti.

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