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