RIP Modern Architecture

This project reimagines the former Pruitt-Igoe site as a contemporary necropolis for modernist urbanism. Following recent trends in landscape architecture, the thick woodland that has arisen on site since the destruction of the towers is conserved; yet, as if in pursuit of an Edenic ecology, it is preserved behind tall retaining walls. Thus the vast open space of Yamasaki’s original urban plan has been inverted to become a monolithic, inaccessible wilderness. The former footprints of the Pruitt-Igoe towers are reinter- preted as bottomless voids—deep chasms that evoke both the beauty and terror of the Sublime.

Though derived from the formal geometry of the Yamasaki plan, this new landscape of stark shadows, chaste forests, and mineral monumentality is experienced anew. What was before a rational plan now approaches its opposite, a labyrinth. Because it highlights, through disorientation and spatial absurdity, architecture’s inherent artificiality, this is the ideal urban form for contemplation and self-reflection.

Each of the two authors has firsthand experience with the pleasures and pitfalls of modernist urbanism. The better half was raised in Brasilia, the futuristic mid-century development of Costa and Niemeyer. The other attended Washington University in St. Louis where he first set foot on the abandoned Pruitt-Igoe site in Bob Hansman’s Hewlett Program. The authors consider the reinterpretation of the failures of modernist utopian urbanism as one important role of architects in the 21st century.