March 14, 2013

For any architect who upholds the essential tenets of Modernism, March is the cruelest month. It was on March 16th 1972 that the first stage demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex in St Louis took place. I remember watching the video footage as a student, completely mesmerised as the first of 33 eleven-storey rectangular tower blocks imploded. A Corbusier-inspired piece of master planning, the 23 hectare site was designed to provide low-cost housing for (often black, often aged) residents of the Missouri capital. But twenty years after its inauguration, the complex had been allowed to fall into a state way beyond repair.

The demolition was a beautiful disaster; so compelling, despite the message it conveyed re the shortfalls of the Modernist canon. (And it was a disaster that found an echo some thirty years later in the spectacular collapse of New York’s World Trade Centre – by a strange twist of history, Minoru Yamasaki was the architect of both structures.)

But, perhaps even more destructive – at least in the symbolic sense – was the fact that the dynamiting of Pruit-Igoe allowed architectural theorist Charles Jencks to later quip that it marked “the day Modernist architecture died”. In Jenck’s theory, it hailed the beginning of that grab-bag era known as Post Modernism. Thankfully, history proved Jencks wrong – in Sydney’s own Tamarama, the renovation, rather than (often called-for) demolition, of the Corbu-inspired Glenview Court attests to that. Long Live Modernism!

Watch here: VIDEO LINK

Author: Nick tobias