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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: February 2011

8 - Ethics, Technology, and Memory


Do we really want to be surrounded by buildings that are soulless and dull?

Daniel Libeskind

The Pruitt–Igoe housing projects in St. Louis were razed on July 15, 1972, less than twenty years after they had been erected. In the wake of Watts and Newark, places like Pruitt–Igoe embodied the very worst in inner-city decay: crime, poverty, vandalism, and fear. By the time of Pruitt–Igoe's destruction, its tenants were few and its critics legion. Some condemned the modernist towers on practical grounds, others for more sweeping, philosophical reasons. For the latter, the failure of Pruitt–Igoe was not so much a question of cheap construction, economic injustice, racial segregation, or haphazard federal housing policy-making. Instead, Pruitt–Igoe represented the failure of modernity – of unbridled Enlightenment faith in reason, technology, and progress – itself.

Minoru Yamasaki, architect of the Pruitt–Igoe high-rises as well as, more famously, the World Trade Center in New York, began designing the housing complexes in the early 1950s. His vision for the project was heavily indebted to Le Corbusier, the Swiss-born paragon of architectural modernism who liked to describe houses, tellingly, as “machines to live in.” Le Corbusier's “International Style,” as carried out by such Bauhaus-era German exiles as Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe, had found – like the logical positivism of the Vienna Circle, with which it had so much in common – a new home in postwar America. Its signature austerity was perhaps best represented by the glass-encased skyscrapers it produced in cities across the country.

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