Concentrated Utopia

If you’ve been near a news source this weekend you’ll know that there’s been large and at times violent protests in St. Louis over the weekend. But the unrest goes back to before most of us were born.

Pruitt Igoe was a dream of modern architecture designed to replace the low cost housing crisis of poverty stricken slums and impoverished rural areas (as farming was being replaced by automation) that were being further stressed by post WW2 housing needs.

It didn’t go as planned. Many complex reasons and dynamics are given in the 2011 documentary, “The Pruitt Igoe Myth“. Questions and damning context – but few answers as to what should have been done differently.

The Pruitt Igoe housing complex was first occupied in 1954. Demolition began before 20 years passed. Upon reflection there seems to be an abundance of resources to design, develop, demolish and eventually document this monumental urban housing project. But there seems very little to maintain the vision. It’s both a failure of centralized local and federal planning (that literally incentivized poverty and broken families) but also short sighted capitalists (that failed to realize the long term social burden of failed generations).

When you add up the numbers how do we measure cost of success compared to the price of failure?

During BILTna 2017, Anthony Hauck of Autodesk spoke elegantly and passionately about an anticipated housing crisis that will result from the approaching shift of 2nd and 3rd world economies to 1st world. But if this documentary is to be believed, increased housing alone will not solve the problem. There’s education, economic opportunity, infrastructure to allow the flow of capital and resources and more. Pruitt Igoe was an unmoving island unable to adjust to the incentivized industrialization of the suburbs.

As far as architects willing to merely focus on the singular issues of housing alone? They’ll likely make matters very much worse.

Next years conference is in St. Louis. Watch this documentary and start thinking now about what you’d do different. The future depends on it.

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