Tag Archives: Front Doors

Pruitt-Igoe | A Photographic Essay

Pruitt-Igoe | A Photographic Essay
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Today, we set a very specific task to promote our forthcoming, new course on The Outlaw Urbanist online learning platform: “A Failure of Modernism: ‘Excavating’ Pruitt-Igoe” (2.0 hour). Namely, create a photographic essay telling the story, in part, of the Pruitt-Igoe Public Housing Complex in St. Louis, Missouri using only ten photographs with shortish captions, i.e. no plans, maps, statistics, or computer models. Quite frankly, it is a near impossible task. Nonetheless, the photos are fascinating and there are plenty of informative links to related materials available in the captions so you can discover more about this (in)famous housing project.

Pruitt-Igoe is one of the most commonly cited examples of the failure of Modernism in the world. The televised demolition of Pruitt-Igoe residential towers in 1972 is one of the most iconic images of 20th-century architecture and planning (Photograph: The Pruitt-Igoe Myth Press Materials).

Opening circa 1954, Pruitt-Igoe was Federally-funded social housing constructed with 2,870 apartments for 13,000 people (228 people/acre) in thirty-three 11-story buildings on 57 acres with a housing density of 50 dwelling units per acre in north St. Louis (Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis via The Guardian).

Pruitt-Igoe was a ‘hybrid design’ for a high-profile, strategic site. It incorporated Modernist principles (i.e. high-rises towers, separation of uses and building siting, stripped down aesthetics where ‘form follows function, etc.) utilizing a regular grid layout in the urban pattern of St. Louis, which was commonly planned on offsetting ‘smallish’ regular grids in a process of deformation, i.e. small for American cities, big for European ones (Photograph: U.S. Geological Survey via Wikipedia Commons).

Pruitt-Igoe replaced 19th-century tenement housing, which was typical of the DeSoto-Carr neighborhood and many areas of St. Louis at the time. Survey of a 1938 Sanborn map indicates there were a minimum of 730 street-oriented dwelling entrances with minimal street setbacks on the site before Pruitt-Igoe, i.e. exclusive of buildings with deep setbacks, large (non-residential) footprints, alleyway-access, and vacant lots (Photograph: State Historical Society and Missouri/University of Missouri-St. Louis Archives).

The pilotis design feature partially ‘liberated’ the ground level for circulation routes, which crucially mediated inside to outside and vice versa, i.e. formal access to the elevator/stairwells in each tower and spatial distribution in the exterior spaces of the layout. The residential towers elevated dwelling entrances in section to internal corridors, effectively representing a complete elimination of front doors in the site (Photograph: Affordable Housing Institute).

The cost-cutting inclusion of ‘skip-stop’ elevators only stopping at the 1st, 4th, 7th, and 10th floors forced most residents to use dark stairwells – principally designed as fire exits – to access the floors of their apartment. They were publicly accessible due to the uncontrolled pilotis design feature, which also provided access to multiple routes at ground level in an ‘easy to read and use’ layout. Collectively, this facilitated opportunity and escape for criminal activities, initially focused on the stairwells but later spreading to other spaces (Photograph: The Pruitt-Igoe Myth).

People must have quickly realized the opportunities inherent in the design and planning of the pilotis feature because intensive patrols of the buildings and grounds began shortly after Pruitt-Igoe opened, even before any welfare recipients were allowed to live there. Former residents indicate these stairwells/elevators were problematic spaces from the very beginning (Photograph: St. Louis Post-Dispatch).

The number of unsupervised children in archival footage of Pruitt-Igoe is startling. ‘Baked-in’ problems of racism accentuated by many regulatory failures skewed Pruitt-Igoe’s demographics towards female-led households with children. Declining occupancy led to a ‘broken interface’ between adults and children. There were too few adults (especially males who belonged there) and too many children for too much space. Unsupervised children (especially teenagers) participated in petty vandalism, which worsened the perception of social malaise at Pruitt-Igoe (Photograph: The Pruitt-Igoe Myth).

There was an asymmetrical relationship (i.e. unequal) between the Vaughan (foreground) and Pruitt-Igoe (background) social housing in terms of formal access, horizontal and vertical scale, and spatial distribution. Nine strategic diagonal/gridline routes passing through, within or to the edge of Vaughan provided direct/adjacent access to every Pruitt-Igoe residential tower, suggesting the opening of Vaughan circa 1957-58 might have been complicit in Pruitt-Igoe’s social malaise (Photograph: U.S. Geological Survey).

Social malaise accelerated at Pruitt-Igoe during the 1960s even as residents maintained some apartment interiors until a cataclysmic mechanical failure in 1968 (watch a 5-minute KMOX news report on YouTube here) led to a St. Louis Public Housing Authority order for phrased vacating of the premises in preparation for demolition. According to news reports/resident testimony, the worst, most violent criminal activities at Pruitt-Igoe occurred during this 5-year period from 1968-1972 (Photograph: Zuma Press/Alamy via The Guardian).

This photographic essay only begins to scratch the surface of the issues surrounding this housing project. There is MUCH MORE to the story of Pruitt-Igoe. Learn more by participating in our forthcoming, new course “A Failure of Modernism: ‘Excavating’ Pruitt-Igoe” when it becomes available!

Share the knowledge!
Share

PHOTOGRAPHIC ESSAY | Savannah, Georgia USA

It has been said that ‘Savannah is all about its squares.’ This is inaccurate. The spatial logic of Savannah is all about the historical loading of front doors along east-west streets in the ward plan. This generates a spatial hierarchy in the plan between ‘outsiders’ (i.e. visitors) principally using north-south streets to enter the town (historically from the port, later via vehicular traffic) before assimilating along the east-west streets primarily used by ‘insiders’ (i.e. residents) (Anderson, 1986 and 1993; Kostof, 1991; Major, 2001 and 2014).

John Reps’ famous 1959 drawing of the historical growth of the Savannah, Georgia ward plan from 1733-1856 (Reps, 1965; 201).
View southeast down West River Street: an east-west street in Savannah (Photograph: Mark David Major).
View southwest from West River Street to Williamson Street showing the dramatic change in elevation from the bank of the Savannah River (Photograph: Mark David Major).
View northwest across Oglethorpe Square (Photograph: Mark David Major).
View northeast from Johnson Square down Bull Street to Savannah City Hall (Photograph: Mark David Major).
North-south streets, mostly barren of trees or front doors, bear the weight of moving high-speed (in relative terms) traffic through Savannah’s ward plan (Photograph: Mark David Major).
(Photograph: Mark David Major)

The spatial logic of the ward plan is imminently serviceable for managing moving traffic, treating most squares as enlarged roundabouts and filtering through traffic mostly along north-south streets such as this one. Over time, constitution (i.e. dwelling entrances) has emerged in a spotty fashion along these north-south streets but not enough (to date) to deteriorate the logic of loading front doors along east-west streets.

(Photograph: Mark David Major)

Despite this, Savannah’s ward plan is suffering under the weight of storing parked vehicles. There are parking garages located on at least four of the squares and two sides of Orleans Square is constituted by surface parking for the convention center. The wall constructed to ‘hide’ this surface parking does nothing to support the functioning of the ward plan or Orleans Square itself. This photo shows the Chatham County-Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission offices occupying a ground level retail space (not a bad idea but poorly designed frontage) on Oglethorpe Square at the base of a seven-story parking garage (metaphorically-speaking, being crushed under the weight of parked vehicles).

Loading of front doors along an east-west street in Savannah’s ward plan (Photograph: Mark David Major).
Loading of front doors (including double-loading at ground level and second-floor entries) on an east-west street defining the northern edge of Oglethorpe Square in Savannah (Photograph: Mark David Major).
(Photograph: Mark David Major)

Some modern in-fill development adheres to the nuances of how Savannah’s ward plan was historically designed to function (front doors loaded on this east-west street in the development in the background) whereas some actively retards that functioning (garages loaded on east-west street in the development in the foreground, turning this portion of the space into an alleyway with trash cans).

References
Anderson, Stanford. 1993. “Savannah and the Issue of Precedent: City Plan as Resource”, Settlements in the Americas: Cross-Cultural Perspectives (Ed. Ralph Bennett). Newark: University of Delaware Press.

Anderson Stanford. 1986. “Studies towards an Ecological Model of Urban Environment”, On Streets (Ed. Stanford Anderson). Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Kostof, Spiro. 1991. The City Shaped: Urban Patterns and Meaning Through History. London: Thames and Hudson, Ltd.

Major, Mark David. 2015. Relentless Magnificence: The American Urban Grid. Ph.D. Thesis. Copies available from University College London.

Major, Mark David. 2001. “When is a door more than a door? The role of constitution in strongly geometric configurations”,  Third International Space Syntax Symposium Proceedings (Eds. J. Peponis, J. Wineman, S. Bafna), 37.1-37.14.

Reps, John W. 1965. The Making of Urban America: A History of City Planning in the United States. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Share the knowledge!
Share