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.

This entry was posted in memory, plants, pruitt-igoe, spontaneous vegetation. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to proposals for pruitt-igoe

  1. Tom says:

    “The problem: this is not necessarily a moment in history that needs to be preserved forever.” I’m not sure I’d agree with that statement. I think the site provides a great opportunity for a museum that preserves a reality for hundreds (thousands) of St. Louisans while also telling a cautionary tale of urban planning. Pruitt-Igoe is one of the most important stories of 20th century St. Louis, as it is central to the tale of the city’s post-war decline and furtive attempts to address problems of race in the city. Relegating Pruitt-Igoe to the past is like dismissing the Arch or the Cathedral Bascillica.

    • Tom,

      Thanks for your comment–rereading the post, I may not be describing my ideas very clearly here. What I was trying to say was that this particular iteration of the design was treating the landscape as a museum, preserving it in a relatively static state instead of celebrating the emergent, spontaneous vegetation. I absolutely agree that the cultural history of the site should be preserved – I just wonder how the complex urban ecology of the site (which I argue is closely related to the cultural history) could also be preserved.

  2. Tom says:

    Sorry, I think I wasn’t reading that right. Your idea is stated clearly. It hadn’t occurred to me that the area could be botanically cultivated in a manner befitting its history, but that is evidently your project. IMHO, I wouldn’t try introducing any vegetation to the area, just work with what grows there naturally. But you do ask “How is this site set apart from vacant land throughout the city?” That’s a great question. I would just want there to be a feel for that Pruitt-Igoe history. I did love your description of a physical space where a former resident could say, for instance, “I lived about where that tree is.” There have been arguments as to why the Pruitt-Igoe site hasn’t been built on since, and some have suggested that it is due to the underground foundations of the building, but others have said that those basements/foundations have already been filled with concrete, so I don’t know.

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