the future of this space …

I began this blog in Fall 2010 as I developed my thesis for University of Virginia’s Master of Landscape Architecture program.  I completed my project in May 2011, and as you may notice, the posts have slowed down considerably since then!

If you are interested in Pruitt-Igoe, I hope that you will find this blog a useful resource – and I hope that you are entering in the Pruitt-Igoe Now competition !

I hope to continue to use this space to share my explorations of urban cultural landscapes, but posts will probably be less frequent from here on out.

I hope you will check out my new project, Quorum Magazine, an online project about architecture, landscape architecture, and the theoretical background that the two disciplines share.

For more information on Framing a Modern Mess, please contact me at

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A bosquet at the southern edge of the site serves as an introduction to the Pruitt-Igoe landscape.

The palette consists of a mix of ornamental plants and plants occurring spontaneously on the site.  While the forms of the species vary widely, they all have heart-shaped leaves.


Planted on a grid of varying density, the planting is at once ordered and evocative of the clonal growth habits of pioneer species.


This model served as a means of exploring tree spacing and density – built at 1/16″=1′-0″, the model was large enough to allow me to look around and “get into the space”.  After several iterations, I was able to develop a final bosquet planting plan.  Phasing plans and sections explore how the bosquet will change over time as the trees grow and are thinned.

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phased plans

The Pruitt-Igoe forest is a result of both cultural and ecological processes.  This project proposes a phased adaptation of the site.

 In the first phase, small areas of the forest are cleared for the construction of gabion mattresses.  As these gabions are colonized by vegetation, a regime of fire-based maintenance can be instituted.  Forested areas, acting as seed banks, can be maintained on the east and west edges of the site.

At the southern edge of the site, a nursery bosquet is initially planted densely with small trees.  As the trees grow, the bosquet can be thinned and the extra trees can be transplanted to other areas of the city.

Eventually, a new nursery to the east of the site allows for the propagation of Pruitt-Igoe-adapted species.

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re-imagining pruitt-igoe

This project has sought to position Pruitt-Igoe as an alternative to the Gateway Arch: an alternative history of St. Louis, as well as an alternative ecology.  This final design proposal re-imagines Pruitt-Igoe as a site of urban memory: both cultural and ecological.

The Jefferson Avenue streetscape retains the existing Catalpa Trees and Trumpet Creeper.  One lane of Jefferson Avenue is converted into a bike lane and planting strip: the lane is jack-hammered to increase permeability, and spontaneous vegetation begins to sprout.  Saw-cut channels in the sidewalk allow stormwater from Jefferson Avenue to reach the Pruitt-Igoe forest rather than flow into the city’s sewer system.

A corten steel gateway provides site history and provides entry via a pathway winding through the rubble that marks that former Dickson Street.  Visitors are aligned with the historic view of St Stanislaus, and can explore the ongoing processes of urban succession.  The existing forest is preserved on the Jefferson Avenue frontage; this and area on the east side of the site serve as seed banks for areas of the site that is cleared: further away from the street controlled-burn maintenance regime helps establish meadows, savannahs, and young forests, proving a dynamic setting for markers that identify the Pruitt-Igoe building footprints.

The building footprints are marked by gabion plinths made of concrete rubble.  These plinths represent the ecological history of re-forestation over rubble, and allow former residents to locate the buildings they once lived in.  Surrounded by a gravel firebreak, the forests emerging on these gabions will continue to grow as the area around them is burned to establish meadows.  As the forests grow up, they begin to represent the scale of the Pruitt-Igoe buildings.

The picnic area east of Gateway School is enlarged to serve as an area for large gatherings, such as Pruitt-Igoe reunions.  A new bosque of trees, established over the former football field, provides an abstract representation of the Pruitt-Igoe forest.  Species existing in the site, such as cottonwood, mulberry and catalpa, are combined with ornamental species such as red bud and little-leaf linden.  These trees range in size and form, but all feature heart-shaped leaves.  This area is intended to provide an “acclimation zone” that allows visitors to begin to contemplate the dissonant beauty of the Pruitt-Igoe landscape.

At DeSoto Park, a narrow strip of concrete is added to the Pruitt-Igoe era sidewalk.  Lined with trees extending from the bosque, this pathway establishes a connection between the community that uses the soccer fields every weekend and the site’s larger cultural and ecological history.

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final presentation: may 11

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proposals for pruitt-igoe

Over the past few weeks, I have focused on developing an approach to the Pruitt-Igoe site that deals not only with program – but that reveals site history: Pruitt-Igoe, demolition, revegetation.  In this post I will describe the four strategies I considered, describing the phasing of the scheme I will be developing for the remainder of the semester.

Option 1: the museum.  This option delineated the existing patches and sought, through a dynamic maintenance regime, to preserve the site in its current state.  The problem: this is not necessarily a moment in history that needs to be preserved forever.  Wouldn’t it be more interesting to see the site grow and develop and change over time?

Option 2: the forest.  Introduce new species to the site (in a grid or other form to show human hand).  Allow succession to continue.  The problem: this is exciting from a spontaneous-vegetation experiment point of view, but doesn’t speak very much to site history.  How is this site set apart from vacant land throughout the city?

Option 3: alter ground conditions at building foot-prints, changing hydrology, soil, etc.  New plants in the building footprint (intentional or volunteer) respond to unique characteristics of site.  The problem: is this clear-cut?

Option 4: This further develops the idea represented in option 3.  Seed banks are retained at the east and west edges of the site (which currently host different species of plants, suggesting different hydrologies).  The areas between building footprints are allowed to revegetate but are subject to a different maintenance regime than the building foot prints.

This model explores the treatment of the building footprints.  Bales of rubble could represent the building footprints.  The fences provide habitat for plants; based on historic aerial imagery, the areas adjacent to chain link were some of the first to revegetate following demolition.  The revegetation of the baled rubble re-presents the site history: the process of vegetation colonizing rubble could represent the ecological restoration of the site (and slower social restoration).  The ecological complexities of the site are perhaps in some way representative of the social complexities.

The baling of the rubble, and its separation from the ground plane, suggest that the site has been remade; that these are not exactly the rubble from demolition but a representation of it.  The site is “tidied up” in the interest of making it more accessible to more people.

The next series of models explore the possible phasing of the project construction:

Phase 1: the building footprints are cleared; to the greatest extent possible the rest of the forest is left in tact.

With the rubble bales in place, the building footprints begin to revegetate.  The surrounding remaining forest acts as a seed bank/source of ecological memory.  New species are introduced at the eastern and western edges of the site.

Phase 3:  As the vegetation on building footprints matures, the space between buildings can be cleared by mowing or prescribed fire.  The clearing of these areas could occur on a rotational basis, providing a range of habitats for species.  Prescribed fire, or other “landscape maintenance events” could help draw the community to the site.  The building footprints remain thickly vegetated in contrast.

This scheme is exciting because it accomplishes the goal of making it possible for a former resident to visit the site and say, “I used to live there” – and actually point at something – while also revealing ecological processes on the site.  The historical and ecological values of the site are revealed simultaneously within a single form.

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I’ve been working over the last week to get beyond vegetation strategies and into the human experience of the site – ways in which the site is scaled to the body, or in which the processes of vacancy and regrowth are made visible at small scale.  This has also meant sorting out the program – what stays, what goes, what relocates.  How are narratives located in the landscape?  How narrative is the narrative?

In the process of programming the site, I’ve realized that I’m not even sure how to describe my intentions for the site.  The south side of the site, where I expect playing fields to remain, could be referred to as a park.  But the forested north side of the site?  Is it a park? A garden?  A monument?  What do these terms mean for our expectations of the place?  What do they suggest about maintenance?  definitions forthcoming …

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