Specters of a Housing Complex: Race, Modern Architecture, and The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

2021-10-02
Examining the issue of endurance from the perspective of architectural representation, this paper analyzes the afterlives of the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex by especially focusing on the 2011 documentary film The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, directed by Chad Freidrichs. The imagery of the demolishment of the housing complex that have largely served as an icon of reactions against modernist architecture. The documentary The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, in turn, unearthed the racial dynamics that underwrote the history of the building complex that was glossed over in such imagery. With this tension in mind, the paper considers the vexed relations between architectural historiographies and representational mediums vis-à-vis the issue of the afterlives of the built environment as popular circulating images. Designed by the architect Minoru Yamasaki, and completed in 1955, The Pruitt-Igoe housing complex was part of an urban renewal initiative of the overcrowded city of St Louis in Missouri, US. Rather than the two decades long history of the building especially with reference to the lives of its African American population, what has predominantly occupied the popular and academic attention was the demolishment of the complex between 1972 and 1976 due to its dilapidated state that gave rise to criminal activities in and around the building. From media spectacle imagery to the architectural history classroom slide, the demolishment of the housing complex figured as the quintessential image of the failure of modernist architecture and its utopic aims concerning the urban fabric. The Pruitt-Igoe Myth challenged and updated this popular image by focusing on an extensive history of the building in relation to the larger context of the urban renewal projects in the city and the racial politics of such renewal that actually culminated in the ultimate demise of this residential project. By focusing on the representational politics of both the media images as well as the documentary film that problematizes the media spectacle from a racial perspective, I will consider different types of imagery as crucial yet complicated mediums of architectural history writing in which no-longer-extant pieces of built environment manage to endure albeit in forms open to debate and overhaul.
European Architectural History Network Thematic Conference: Architecture and Endurance

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Citation Formats
E. Pinar, “Specters of a Housing Complex: Race, Modern Architecture, and The Pruitt-Igoe Myth,” presented at the European Architectural History Network Thematic Conference: Architecture and Endurance, Ankara, Türkiye, 2021, Accessed: 00, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://endurancearch.files.wordpress.com/2021/09/eahn-book-of-abstracts.pdf.