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Pruitt-Igoe, Dumb Humans, and Natural Entropy


I just got back from viewing the very powerful film, “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth.” I was familiar with Pruitt-Igoe, but more from the standpoint of it being part of Minoru Yamasaki’s portfolio. Pruitt-Igoe was the perfect example of failed public housing. With great glee, people moved out of their slum and into their garden tower. Over the course of the next 20 years the whole place fell apart entirely. Many things are to blame, but the “myth” that it created was that public housing simply just couldn’t work.

The film goes over many aspects of the project’s failure but I would like to share my interpretation (based upon the film, and general knowledge) of what went down. Rich white people where tired of having to travel through the decayed regions that poor, mostly black, people lived. So they built them a pretty box and forced them to live in it. Once their problems of poverty were boxed up, the rich folks no longer needed to worry about it. Problem solved! May I also mention that none of this was in any way philanthropic.

Knowing architecture, I know this can’t work. #Idonthavethefactstobackthisup but they’re out there, and I recall that annual building maintenance is somewhere in the region of 2% to 5% of construction cost. Watch the film and it becomes readily apparent that building maintenance was basically nonexistent. The buildings get blamed for being poorly designed and constructed, but in reality, it was the neglect. You can’t build a pretty box, stuff it full of thousands of people and expect it to stay in good shape. Even without people, natural entropy did most of the work when it came to destroying Pruitt-Igoe.

I could go on forever about this, but I have some actual work to do. I highly recommend watching the film if you are at all interested in: America, History, Racism, Public Housing, Architecture, Urban Planning, White-Flight, or anything at all. Thanks to the Indianapolis Art Museum for hosting the film and for the discussions afterwards, all very provocative. Also heard about The Meadows, a new era housing project here in Indy. They are using a proven system that has worked wonderfully in Atlanta. Should be interesting to see how that turns out.

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About bjmcghee

Architect in training.

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