Page 1

context • 1

cover photo: Pruitt-Igoe during 1972 demolition (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth)

acknowledgements: This project would never have happened without the invaluable research of Michael Allen, Elizabeth Birmingham, Katherine Bristol, and others who have tirelessly worked to decipher the true story of Pruitt-Igoe. Without their work, Pruitt-Igoe might have continued to be known as an icon of failure and remain an irreparable scar on the face of St. Louis. I would like to thank the following people who have made the completion of this project possible: My advisor, Wendy Jacobson, for her encouragement, guidance, and patience. Brian Katen for his inspiration and encouragement. Mintai Kim, Terry Clements, Dean Bork, Patrick Miller, C.L. Bohannon, and Dave McGill for their help and inspiration over the years. Thank you to my family (especially Elinor, Dad, and Grandma Evelyn) for all your support and patience. Also to my wonderful classmates and friends Laura Sokol, Luisa Cruz, Amy Strickland, Laurel Heile, Christine Ly, Brad Davis, and Dustin Smith for your invaluable advice and encouragement. Also to Jon Runge, Ben Turpin, and Paul Toler for distractions and just plain awesomeness.

table of contents beginnings preface introduction

1 2

background context


history city district site

4 6

city district site





21 25

district site

34 36

vision what is city.forest? objectives + strategies hybrid programming embracing wilderness


concept 39 40 43 46

design masterplan design principles experiencing an urban forest district concept

48 49 52 57

conclusion pruitt-igoe’s legacy list of references

58 59


saving an


I love St. Louis. I love its culture, its people, its location, its history. I wanted to do a project in St. Louis so I could attempt to gain a better understanding of the city’s issues and how they could be remedied. What better site than Pruitt-Igoe, which, in the years since its dramatic demise, has become an international icon of failure? Forgotten by the city whose salvation it promised, Pruitt-Igoe has been allowed to fade into myth, casting an immense shadow on the city and on the neighborhood. I believe that a real understanding of Pruitt-Igoe – its history, its effects, its real legacy – is invaluable to the future of St. Louis. If the city is ever to move forward, it must first confront its past. How do you create a St. Louis solution to a St. Louis problem? –––– “St. Louis’ best chance for a bright future depends on forging creative connections with the past.” (Hidden Assets).

photo: Pruitt-Igoe during demolition (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth) preface • 1

introduction: urban renewal + the city of the future

Pruitt-Igoe was a multi-block urban renewal project

fice parks and new housing (see Figure XX) – a superfi-

completed in north St. Louis n 1956 that was subse-

cial solution that does nothing to combat the realities

quently spectacularly demolished (see Figure XX) due

of isolation, negative perception, and the brokenness

to rampant crime, falling occupancy rates, and decay.

of the neighborhood.

With its demise it gained international notoriety and

Is there another way? One that breaks the St. Louis

permanently damaged the image of St. Louis.

tradition of the ‘edifice complex’ (believing new build-

Pruitt-Igoe was supposed to be a catalyst for St. Louis

ing developments can fix the brokenness of the still-

– attacking the heart of the slums and bringing people

emptying city)?

back to the city after white flight. Instead it had the op-

Michael Hough wrote in Cities and Natural Process that

posite effect – starting a mass exodus from the city and

the ignored urban spaces contribute just as much to

becoming far worse than the slums it replaced. The

the city’s civic image as the formalized landscapes (in

failure of Pruitt-Igoe forever burdened St. Louis with

St. Louis’ case, the Arch, for example). And when these

the image of danger and vacancy. While the project

wild, derelict spaces are actually closer to the common

has grown internationally notorious, the city has tried to

perception of the city of St. Louis, why not embrace

forget it – every solution has proposed wiping the site

these spaces that contribute to the city’s current char-

clean. But its notoriety has had a beneficial outcome

acter – repurposing what others view as debris/ugly to

– redeveloping the site would mean dealing with its

add value to the city and neighborhood?

issues and instead the site has been allowed to regenerate into a rich urban forest unlike anything else in the city. A new project, Northside Regeneration, proposes wiping the site clean and replacing the forest with of2 • introduction

“Action and reaction, ebb and flow, trial and error, change –this is the rhythm of living. Out of our over-confidence, fear; out of fear, clearer vision, fresh hope,and out of hope, progress.” – Bruce Barton (former US Congressman, NY) (Hidden Measures, p. xi)

How can a project that was meant to be a harbinger of the future fulfill this role forty years after its death? What is true urban renewal?

Figure 01: concept drawing for the future of downtown St. Louis, circa 1965. Notice the image of a PruittIgoe–like project in the top right corner. . (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth)


city + site


uri Riv



Pruitt-Igoe Interstate 64





Early settlers of the Midwest were attracted by its rich Missouri is a transition state: from east to west it prairie soil and flat topography, although later most makes the end of the eastern decidous forest and the beginning of the prairie, and from north to south of the cities became centers for industry. Many of the major cities grew up along rivers or other waterways it marks the limits of early glacial movements. Misand became shipping and manufacturing hubs. souri’s diverse microclimates allow for both industrial agriculture and wineries. Much of the state is rural, the only main cities – St. Louis, Jefferson City/Colombia, and Kansas City – are all located along Interstate 64, which bisects the state.

iss iss



eastern u.s.

city of st. louis





n dow

[metro st. louis] St. Louis is situated at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. Although the metropolitan area is comprised of 15 counties across Missouri and Illinois, the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County – the two largest segments of the city – are both located in Missouri. The City of St. Louis is bisected by Interstate 64, dividing the city perceptually into north city and south city.

context • 3


st. louis: boomtown

Figure 02 St. Louis and westward expansion.

Figure 03 St. Louis and major trade routes.

(Image credit: “Framing a Modern Mess”)

(Image credit: “Framing a Modern Mess”)

Initially settled as a French fur-trading port, St. Louis is situated at the confluence of the Missouri and Missippi Rivers. Because of its location, St. Louis quickly became a major trading city and a starting point for pioneers moving west (see Figure XX). By 1836, it was one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. (with a 373% population boom from 1840–50). About the same time, the first riverside railroads appeared in St. Louis, and by 1841, St. Louis had the second highest river traffic in the country (next to New Orleans) and was becoming a major metropolis: “In little more than half a century, St. Louis has passed from a border trading post, scarcely yet Americanized, to a metropolis which is already contending for a foremost rank among American cities.” – Wayman Crow, 1875

St. Louis Chamber of Commerce (St. Louis: Its Neighborhoods and Neighbors, p. 12)

4 • history

In 1876, the City of St. Louis split from St. Louis County to become its own county so that it could establish better home rule. (These boundaries, which still exist today, were established to give St. Louis ample room to grow, although they prompted some of the densification measures of urban renewal seventy years later.) In 1880, St. Louis was the 4th largest city in the country (after New York, Philadelphia, and Brooklyn) with a population of 350,522. In response, some of the prominent businessmen formed the Business Men’s League, Incorporated in 1895 to devote itself “to keep the city’s greatness constantly before the people of this and other countries” (St. Louis: Its Neighorhoods and Neighbors, p. 12). It was this group that was largely responsible for making St. Louis the site of the 1904 World’s Fair, for supporting Charles Lindbergh’s trans-atlantic flight, for bringing the City Beautiful movement to the city (and the establishment of parks,

indoor plumbing, and public baths), and for leading a state-wide good roads movement. By the early twentieth century, St. Louis had also become a major manufacturing center; over 150 new factories were built between 1920 and 1925 alone. By the mid-1920s, St. Louis had become a true transportation hub: 600 miles of railroad, 26 railroad lines, 4 trans-river bridges, and 19 miles of industrial river frontage. By the 1930s and 40s, however, the industry had started to decline and move out to the county, leaving the core of the city empty and derelict. Much of the housing around the industry deteriorated and this was partially responsible for the flight of middle class residents to the suburbs. Enter urban renewal and Pruitt-Igoe. Once the 4th largest city in the country, St. Louis is now the 58th (see Figure 04). What happened is a complicated story, but one that intimately involves Pruitt-Igoe.

the fall of a rustbelt metropolis

Syracuse Rochester Buffalo 1980 974,180 people



1970 951,671 people

Cleveland Pittsburgh

1990 993,508 people

Cincinatti St. Louis

U.S. boundary river

2010 998,954 people

After a few decades of rapid population increase, the County’s growth has steadied as new populations move into new developments in other counties in the metropolitan area. (Increased sprawl as the metro area covers 21 counties in Illinois and Missouri)

1960 703,532 people

Rustbelt area

2000 1,016,300 people

rustbelt context

unt y

The Promise of

L St.

Population Growth

sC oui t. L

Th o

u gh

(St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

“If we can clear away the slums and blighted areas of this city, and replace them with modern, cheerful living accommodations, people will stop moving out of the city into the [suburban] county, and many will start moving back.”


(Mayor Joseph M. Darst, 1949 campaign speech)

dS y an

t. L

ere ty w oun C ouis

g win gro

me r he sa ox. t r p p at a


.L St


Lo St.



it is C

“a great step forward, the kind of progress that would revitalize St. Louis”



o dC





1960 750,026 people

ouis C



1970 622,236 people

St. Louis City: 856,796 St. Louis County: 406,349

S te, ara p e s

-between 28% 1970 & 1980 alone!

1980 453,085 people

* decade marked the beginning of white flight

1990 396,685 people

The Result of


Today the City’s population is less than it was at the end of the Civil War 2000 348,189 people

national infamy

“the modern movement’s most grandiloquent failure”

2010 319,294 people

(Architect’s Journal, 1972)








What is the rustbelt? Also called the Manufacturing Belt or the Factory Belt, the rustbelt describes the area straddling the Midwest and Northeast whose economy was historically based on manufacturing, specifically metals and automobiles. Due to changing economic conditions in the mid-20th century, much of the industry left the area and many of the urban areas now suffer from population loss, depletion of local tax revenues, and chronic unemployment.






Figure 04 Charting St. Louis’ population decline over the 20th century and how Pruitt-Igoe fits into it.

history • 5


attacking the slums


(demolished 1972-76)


(Demolished 1995)

Cochran Gardens (Demolished 2008)


(Demolished 1999)

Clinton-Peabody (still exists)

Obsolete areas Blighted areas

Figure 05 St. Louis’ urban renewal public housing program based on the 1947 Housing Assessment, which highlighted the problem areas within the city which should be addressed by urban renewal.

“Slums are the cancers of our cities.” – Minoru Yamasaki, architect of Pruitt-Igoe

Although the political boundaries set up in 1876 seemed to adequately allow for future growth at the time, they proved to be restrictive later. When the city faced massive population influxes at the turn of the century, it was forced to consolidate its cemeteries in order to build more housing. When in the 1930s, the population was predicted to reach 950,000 by 1970, the city took action

6 • history

again: tearing down the older low-income neighborhoods and consolidating them into high-rise apartment buildings like Pruitt-Igoe. When they assessed the city’s housing stock, a high percentage of it was deemed obsolete (to be torn down) or blighted (to get superficial improvements) (see Figure 05). Although not shown on the map as blighted, large areas of downtown and the riverfront were torn down, including industrial buildings and ethnic enclaves. The downtown mall, the site of Busch Stadium, and the eventual site of the National Jefferson Expansion Memorial were cleared during this process. As the city began to lose population in the 1950s when people began flocking to the suburbs, planners thought that attacking the worst areas of the city would be enough to stem the emigration. Planners saw the problems of the slums to be superficial, which could easily be fixed through beautification efforts. Part of the 1947 Housing Assessment report reads “Neighborhoods that have become a liability to the city can become an asset only through reconstruction along sound planning principles” (1947 Comprehensive City Plan of St. Louis, p. 15). The Desoto-Carr neighborhood was judged to be one of the most dangerous areas of the city and it received the largest housing project, Pruitt-Igoe. When they began clearing the neighborhood, it was expected that other urban renewal projects would be added later, creating a corridor of new, clean residences that befitted the modern city. As it turned out, although some of the area was cleared, new buildings never arrived, leaving Pruitt-Igoe isolated among slums and some vacant land.

Figure 06 Image from 1947 Housing Assessment showing potential ideas for the Desoto-Carr neighborhood. Future Pruitt-Igoe site outlined. (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth).

a modern dream far left:

Figure 07

Cover from Architectural Forum (1951) article, lauding St. Louis’ efforts to clean up the city. The area marked as ‘A’ would become Pruitt-Igoe. (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth) clockwise from top center: Figure 08

Pruitt-Igoe dominated the skyline before the Arch was completed in 1965. Note how Pruitt-Igoe is like an island among a sea of slums. (courtesy of Michael Allen) Figure 09

Aerial photo of downtown St. Louis circa 1965. Pruitt-Igoe is easily visible in the background. (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth) Figure 10

Part of Architectural Forum (1951) article, commending the architects’ design to create community. (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth)

history • 7


the pruitt-igoe myth

Originally lauded in Architectural Forum and Archi-

“Modern architecture died in St. Louis, Missouri on July

But, as some historians have pointed out, the story of

tectural Record for its modern innovative design, less

15, 1972...when the infamous Pruitt-Igoe scheme...

Pruitt-Igoe – why it was built and why it failed – is much

than 20 years later Pruitt-Igoe was a “menace” and a

[was] given the final coup de grâce by dynamite”

more complicated than the prevailing myth implies.

“failure” (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth). Its negative perception

(Pruitt Igoe Now, p. 3).

was secured when Charles Jencks, the architectural

Since then its notoriety has only grown, making it an

theorist, blamed the project for the death of modernism

international icon of failure, the quintessential example

in general:

of architecture gone wrong.

8 • history

photo: Pruitt-Igoe during 1972 demolition (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth)

“Modern architecture

timeline: charting catastrophe

died...when the infamous Pruitt-Igoe scheme... [was] given the final coup de grâce by dynamite.

– Charles Jencks



(Pruitt Igoe Now, p. 3)







om* o *b

60% 1939: St. Louis City Planning Commission creates a map of the obsolete and blighted areas of St. Louis

29% 1950: St. Louis Housing Authority commissioned the firm of Leinweber, Yamasaki, & Hellmuth to design the project



1950 1949: U.S. Housing Act of 1949 is passed 1954: Brown vs. Board of Education passed in Supreme Court. Plans for Pruitt-Igoe were hurriedly desegregated



1960 1958: After two years of good conditions, the project begins to deteriorate and occupancy begins to drop.

July 15, 1972


1969: Inhabitants go on a rent strike after the Housing Authority refuses to fix things. 1965: First of federal grants to physically rejuvenate the project and establish social programs

1973: Federal Department of Housing & Urban Development decided PruittIgoe was unsaveable and decide to demolish the rest of the project

actual life of Pruitt-Igoe Figure 11 Overlaying the public perception of Pruitt-Igoe with its occupancy rate and other major events.

history • 9


product of an era

The main flaw of Pruitt-Igoe, at least to architects, was

first hired to design Pruitt-Igoe, they were constrained

maximum allowable cost per unit. A field officer of the

its design. Why did a project that was first proposed as

by the size and location of the site, the number of

federal Public Housing Administration (PHA) insisted

a mixture of lower structures become a forest of mono-

units, and the project density (all of which had been

on a scheme using 33 identical eleven-story elevator

lithic 11-story slabs? The answer is a combination

predetermined by the St. Louis Housing Authority).

buildings. Figure 12 breaks down the major architec-

of cultural and architectural trends and government

Their first design proposal called for a mixture of high-

tural and cultural influences of the project. (Bristol, p.


rise, mid-rise, and walk-up structures, which, although

352-356; von Hoffman, p. 180-185).

When the firm of Leinweber, Yamasaki & Hellmuth was

approved by local authorities, exceeded the federal

Height inspired by New York City skyscrapers and Robert Moses’ Stuyvesant Towers. High-rise design was also championed as a way to preserve open space.

Strategy was not an attempt to restrict poor blacks to inner city neighborhoods; instead of building “warehouses for the poor,” it was intended to be “a great step forward, the kind of progress that would revitalize St. Louis.” (von Hoffman p. 181) Skip-stop elevators connecting to windowed galleries meant to promote a sense of community (also a cost-saving measure).

High density from high cost of land (including slum clearance), expected influx of migrant populations, and federal costcutting measures.


per acre 55 dwellings

Superblock from Modernist movement

Lack of landscape a result of local contractors’ price-gouging. Location in the middle of the city because wanted to attack the heart of the slum problem (hoped that getting rid of the worst neighborhoods would help draw people back to the city).

10 • history

Figure 12

The major architectural and cultural influences of Pruitt-Igoe.

a ‘problem’ neighborhood Through the 1910s, the Desoto-Carr neighborhood was a diverse middleand working-class neighborhood with a mix of commercial, residential, and industrial uses (see Figures 13 + 14). As more immigrants began to move to the area, however, the middle class population left and the neighborhood began to deteriorate. By the late 1920s, the area had become a slum: rampant crime, deteriorating homes (see Figure 17), overcrowded conditions (see Figures 15 + 16), and junk yards (see Figure 18). These condi-

19th century diversity

tions and its proximity to downtown made it a target for urban renewal.

Figure 13.

Figure 14.

1875 map of the Desoto-Carr neighborhood as it was being built up. The future Pruitt-Igoe site is marked with yellow; industry with maroon; forest remnants with green; ponds and depressions with blue. (“Framing a Modern Mess”)

Detail area of the neighborhood in 1875. The future Pruitt-Igoe site is marked in yellow. (Missouri History Museum)

20th century blight

Figure 15.

Figure 16.

Figure 17.

Figure 18.

Children playing in one of the slum alleys circa 1940. (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth)

Children playing in one of the slum alleys circa 1940. (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth)

Deteriorating homes in the Desoto-Carr area circa 1945. (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth)

One of the many junk yards that were prevalent in the neighborhood circa 1945. (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth)

history • 11


the project

above: Figure 19

The landscape around the buildings. (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth) left: Figure 20

Aerial map of Pruitt-Igoe, circa 1965. Vaughn Apartments are in the lower right corner. (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth)

Even though the architects were limited by FHA and St. Louis Housing Authority standards, they did try to make the project as livable as possible. Charles Jencks wrote: “Pruitt-Igoe was constructed according to the most progressive ideas of CIAM [Congrés Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne, or the International Congress of Modern Architecture]...It consisted of elegant slab blocks fourteen storeys high, with rational ‘streets in the air’ (which were safe from cars, but, as it turned out, not

12 • history

safe from crime); ‘sun, space, and greenery,’ which Le Corbusier called the ‘three essential joys of urbanism’ (instead of conventional streets, gardens, and semiprivate space, which he banished). It had separation of pedestrian and vehicular traffic the provision of play space, and local amenities such as laundries, créches, and gossip centers – all rational substitutes for traditional patterns.” (Bristol, p. 12) Despite their best efforts, the project began to crumble within a few years of its construction, prompting plan-

ners and architects to question the guiding principles of Modernism (which is part of the reason why PruittIgoe is considered to be the death of modern architecture). They concluded, like Jencks, that even though the project was designed with the intention of instilling good behavior in the tenants, “it was incapable of accommodating their social needs” (Bristol, p. 12)

mapping the site Figure 21

Map of the Pruitt-Igoe project. (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth) history • 13

Figure 22

Figure 23

Figure 24

Crowd at Pruitt-Igoe’s opening ceremonies, 1956. (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth)

Early residents in their new home. (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth)

Joyce Ladner and her child. (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth)

1956: “the best place I ever lived” Hopes were high when Pruitt-Igoe first opened: the project was lauded as a great step forward for St. Louis, a massive improvement over the slums. For most residents, although the furnishings and construction were the cheapest possible, the apartments were the best they’d ever lived in, or would live in again (The PruittIgoe Myth). Despite the myth that the residents immediately trashed the project, many were excited about the prospect of being the first tenants of the project, and took care of their new homes (Bristol p. 355-57).

14 • history

Figure 25

Figure 26

Residents in front of their old home in the slums, ready to move into Pruitt-Igoe. (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth)

One of few intact families in Pruitt-Igoe; many fathers were prohibited for living in the project. (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth)

Figure 27

Figure 28

Figure 29

Broken windows covered in icicles, circa 1968. (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth)

Broken windows, circa 1968. (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth)

Walking through the rubble, circa 1973. (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth)

1968: ‘case history of a failure’ So read the headline of an Architectural Forum article from 1968 (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth), seventeen years after the same magazine had praised the project as precent-breaking, a shining example of Modernism at work (see Figure 07). By the mid-1960s, the infrastructure and social structure of PruittIgoe were crumbling, and the project was becoming a haven for crime. In less than 15 years, “the words ‘Pruitt-Igoe’ have become a household term...for the worst in ghetto livFigure 30

Figure 31

Example of vandalism common in the buildings. (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth)

Policeman patrolling corridors at night, circa 1965. (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth)

ing” (“The Lessons of Pruitt-Igoe” p. 116).

history • 15



N. 25th

N 22

N. 23rd

th N 19


N 20




N. Jefferson

N . 21


N. 24th



N. 20


N. 22


N 20



James Cool Papa Bell







N 19

N. Jefferson

N. 22 nd


N. 23rd

N. 23rd

N. 25th




hy Pa












Figure 32

Figure 33

1895 map of block density of the Desoto-Carr neighborhood, focused on the future site of Pruitt-Igoe. (compiled from Whipple Maps, courtesy of the Missouri History Museum)

2010 map of the area’s block density today. Note the superblock of PruittIgoe that replaced the original street grid, how few historic buildings still remain, and the new development patterns of infill residential developments.


historic existing building

e site N 20


new building




frame building



nt d

e site

Vinso n


N 22n

Pruit brick building




N. 21





N. 22

N. 23rd



changing urban fabric Intended to stabilize the neighborhood and bring the

– and directly caused the deterioration of the neighbor-

grassed lots in their place. Today, some of the lots are

middle classes back from the suburbs, Pruitt-Igoe had

hood. Migrant populations, expected to fill the vacated

being rebuilt as suburban-style apartment complexes,

the opposite effect: it cast a shadow on St. Louis –

homes around Pruitt-Igoe, moved instead to the coun-

but the neighborhood is still characterized by swathes

contributing to the perception that the city was danger-

ty, and over time, the homes began to crumble and

of vacant land and a perception of danger – a place to

ous and decaying, a perception that exists to this day

were enventually demolished by the city, leaving empty

avoid for most citizens.

16 • history

covering an urban scar Over the years, the city has proposed various schemes for the site, none of which have been successful. Ideas included a penitentiary, golf course, and the two most recent ideas: Gateway Village and Northside Regeneration. top row:

Figures 34 + 35.

Proposed in the mid-1990s, Gateway Village was an ambitious project that proposed reestablishing high-end residential along St. Louis Place Park, adding middle-class neighborhoods along the edge, and creating two main park-like subdivisions in the vacant areas. (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth) bottom row: Figures 36, 37, + 38.

Figure 34

Figure 35

Northside Regeneration plans to demolish much of almost two square miles of north city, replacing it with four office parks (far right) and new detached singlefamily homes and mixed-use developments. (Northside Regeneration, LLC)

Figure 36

Figure 37

Figure 38

history • 17


the city today “The Gateway City is, by any measure, one of the most depopulated, deindustrialized, and deeply segregated examples of American urban decay. ‘Not a typical city,’ as one observer noted in the late 1970s, ‘ shows a – Colin Gordon general condition in a stark and dramatic form.” (Mapping Decline, p. xi)

Once a thriving metropolis, St. Louis has fallen far: its

scribed by development or enter-

average: a few trees and grass playing fields. The few

population continues to fall every year, it is consistently

prise zone programs today” (Map-

notable exceptions are Forest Park, Tower Grove Park,

on the FBI’s most dangerous cities list, and, for the

ping Decline, p. 158).

the Arch, and City Garden (see Figure 40). Of these,

most part, the city’s efforts of revitalization have fallen

The city’s future is not completely bleak, however;

only Forest Park and City Garden feature a 21st centu-

flat. As Colin Gordon notes,

several grassroots organizations and other groups have

ry design (although the Arch grounds are currently be-

“Billions of dollars in 1960s slum clear-

started making a difference in their community. Slowly

ing redesigned). How can the Pruitt-Igoe site become a

ance, urban renewal, and the model

but surely, progress is being made all over the city.

21st century park? (See page 43 for more information).

cities program have ‘had little funda-

Can one site become a catalyst for the entire city? I be-

What implications will that have for the rest of the city?

mental effect on the basic economy

lieve that because of Pruitt-Igoe’s history in relation to

of the city.’... Assessments of urban

the rest of the city, its geographic location, its cultural

decay in St. Louis have changed

significance, and the unique ecological opportunities

little in the last century: the scope of

on the site, it can be just such a catalyst.

blight plans of 1979 or 1963 or 1947

How can the ecology of the site be harnessed? At a

is essentially the same as that circum-

city scale, many St. Louis’ neighborhood parks are

2010 city stats:

18th largest U.S. metro area

( 18 • analysis


million people



in median household income


in collegeeducation


in poverty rate


in unemployment


in crime

(among top 50 metro areas) (source: Hidden Assets)

empty city: vacancy patterns

shades of green: city parks Calgary Cemetery

Bellefontaine Cemetery

O’Fallon Park

Fairgrounds Park





Interstate 64

north city


r Blvd.

south city

Forest Park

(down town)

city garden

the Arch

Tower Grove Park

River Des Peres Greenway Carondelet Park

Figure 39

Vacant lots within the city limits (2011 data). The city is bisected by Interstate 64, dividing it into north city and south city. North city, especially above Delmar Blvd (the Mason-Dixon line of the city), is much emptier than south city.


average park


Figure 40

The relative ecological diversity within St. Louis’ parks. Only a few of the city’s parks (Forest Park, the Arch, City Garden, and Tower Grove Park) have received any recent attention. The rest, especially in north city, are neglected. analysis • 19

st. louis life: cultural attractions + vibrant neighborhoods To most residents of the St. Louis metropolitan area, there isn’t much of value in the city of St. Louis: a few parks (Forest Park, Tower Grove Park, and possibly the Arch), a few neighborhoods (Central West End is the most popular), and a few museums and attractions. The rest is seen as dangerous: north city is where the “ghettos” and vacant blocks are, while south city is denser but badly deteriorating. (St. Louis is divided perceptually into north city and south city by Interstate 64.) Although Pruitt-Igoe is located in north city, geographically close to both Grand Center and downtown, perceptually it t End


(Pruitt-Igoe site)

(dividing line)


science center


Busch Stadium


art museum


St. Louis University

BJC, Children’s




nd C

history museum


The Fox


Central Wes


washingto university n

Forest Park

seems very distant.

44 Botanical Gardens


Sou t




Tow e Park r Grove

ran d

ted drew’s

Figure 41

Highlighting the main attractions in St. Louis – or all that most residents find important.

20 • analysis


district: downtown + desoto-carr Figure 42

Context map of downtown and Desoto-Carr. (Image courtesy of Google Maps).

Inte 70


te rsta

Desoto-Carr & St. Louis Place neighborhoods


Jefferson Ave.


Wash in




City Garden



the Arch

te 64

analysis • 21

(+40% from 2000) median home value:

(+43% from 2000) population (2010):

median income:

2% hispanic 3% white 5% asian 91% black

100% black

(-15% from 2000)

population (2010): population (2010):

3% white

(+40% from 2000)

(-68% from 2000)


median home value:

no. of vacant units: no. of vacant units: (-57% from 2000)

1% hispanic

education level: high school:

3% hispanic

median income:

96% black

education level: high school:

(-11% from 2000) median income:

2% white 2% asian

median income:

96% black

population (2010):

4% asian

(+4% from 2000)


population (2010):

99% black population (2010): median income: (+4% from 2000)

population (2010):

93% black 7% asian population (2010):

2% hispanic

(+246% from 2000)

38% black

median income:

left: Figure 43

population (2010):

median income:

(+55% from 2000)

4% asian

population (2010):

4% asian

(-10% from 2000)

61% white median income:

(-9% from 2000) 55% white

median income:

69% white 22% black 35% black

district life: demographic data

Demographic data by census tract (US Census data 2010) above: Figure 44

Detailed demographic data of area immediately adjacent to Pruitt-Igoe site. (US Census data 2010).

41% black

St. Louis is a highly segregated city – racially and

north. The area around the Pruitt-Igoe site (marked

economically. This divide can be clearly seen in

in gray) is the poorest in the area, with residents

this district – the downtown is primarily white with

earning just under $9000 annually.

overall higher income levels than the areas to the

22 • analysis

(-56% from 2000)

education level: high school:

1% white

(-32% from 2000)

58% white

median home value:


(-5% from 2000)

median income:

education level: high school:

(+37.9% from 2000)

72% black

1% asian

(+121% from 2000)


median income:

population (2010):

6% white


no. of vacant units:

3% white

(-46.2% from 2000)

median home value:

(-5% from 2000)

97% black

(+64% from 2000)

(-12.6% from 2000)


population (2010):

25% white

(+43% from 2000) median income:


no. of vacant units:


Blv d. Gra nd

St. Lo ui

s Ave .

e7 tat ers Int

lo N. F


. Ave ant


20th S t.

Cass A ve.


Luthe r


Wash in

ar Av

r. Delm

ar Av


N. 14

th St.

Jeff ers


Ave .


King D






t St.


rsta te 6 4


main roads

bus routes


r Blvd .

Dr. M

bus stops

district life: circulation and buildings



.1 miles

Figure 45




Breaking down the hierarchy of major roads in the area.

.1 .1

.05 .05

0 0

miles .1.1miles

Figure 46

Looking at building density in the area, and marking potential population hubs.

During the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries, the

thins out considerably and many of the arterial roads

Boulevard, which are major north-south thoroughfares

district was a busy industrial area, and its streets and

are simply too big (see Figure 45).

(see Figure 45).

buildings reflected this. Although much of the area

The site is located at the intersection of Jefferson and

Although many of the buildings north of Delmar have

was destroyed by urban renewal, its streets still reflect

Cass Avenues, two of the major arterial roads in the

been demolished, there are still a surprising number

its busy past. Many of the streets downtown still re-

neighborhood. Access to the site from the core of

of schools and churches (see Figure 46), which are

ceive heavy traffic, but north of Delmar Blvd, the traffic

downtown is possible via N. 14th Street and Tucker

potential populations to be tapped for the project.

analysis • 23

rk e Pa Plac St. L ouis

Figure 48

View down one of the empty streets in Desoto-Carr.


ar Av


Figure 49

New housing next to a neighborhood park.




.1 .05 .05 00


vacant land

new housing

community gardens


.1.1 miles miles

Figure 47

Comparing the use of unbuilt land, especially north of Delmar Blvd.

Figure 50

Many of the lots are not well-maintained, and spontaneous vegetation begins to take over any ruins.

district land: land use + character Although when looking at the area north of Delmar,

tribute to the overall negative perception of the area.

Louis Place Park and the downtown mall (see Figure

there seem to be a lot of parks, the parks are often

Although there is a lot of new housing in the area, it

47) provide a potential opportunity for expansion.

very similar to the vacant lots nearby (see Figures 47

is mostly insular and does little to connect to the sur-

and 48). The high concentration of vacant lots con-

rounding neighborhood. The linear forms of both St.

24 • analysis


site: pruitt-igoe today

Figure 51

Panorama of prairie in site interior

Although the largest rubble was cleared away from the

a complex for Gateway Charter School. Around the

diverse urban forest (see Figure 40) unlike anything

site after final demolition in 1976, a layer of rubble still

same time, the city began using the remainder of the

else in the city. The new growth has also had a nega-

remained, as well as sidewalks, some trees, founda-

site as a dump for rubble from the construction of the

tive impact: the site is frequently used for local dump-

tions, and some roads. The site was then fenced off,

America’s Convention Center and Kiel Center (now

ing, possibly because it looks like no one cares for the

except for access to the electrical substation, which

Scottrade Center) downtown. The addition of the


is still in use today. Over the next twenty years, the

rubble made it impossible to mow the site, and the

site was slowly vegetated by grass and other ground-

St. Louis Land Clearance Authority (had taken over

cover plants, and was mown by the St. Louis Housing

ownership a few years earlier) allowed the site to grow

Authority, which maintained ownership.


In the early 1990s, twenty acres were developed as

Over the past twenty years, the site has grown into a analysis • 25

grasses, goldenrod

goldenrod, honeysuckle

honeysuckle, sumac

source: “Framing a Modern Mess”

sumac, tree of paradise

source: “Framing a Modern Mess”

cottonwood, siberian elm, catalpa, honey locust, hackberry, (honeysuckle)

source: “Framing a Modern Mess”


Figure 52

Section of the general vegetation succession of the site. above and right: Figure 53

Evolution of canopy cover on the site from the mid-1990s. The growth happens fairly rapidly, especially between 2005 and 2007.

growing an urban forest: spontaneous succession on site

source: “Framing a Modern Mess”


The vegetation on Pruitt-Igoe is unique; it has grown

Figure 52 breaks down the successional processes on

it change as it matures? The site offers an invaluable

without any outside assistance. Its success was de-

the site into stages, starting from pioneer species like

opportunity for studying urban forests, and should be

termined entirely by site conditions and, therefore, it is

grasses and goldenrod and ending in what we as-

preserved if possible to help serve the public.

truly indicative of the underlying conditions of the site.

sume are the climax species. But the forest has only

It shows the past use, and indeed abuse, of the site.

been growing for 15 years (see Figure 53); how might

26 • analysis

legumes (clover, lespedeza, etc)


aster grasses

tree of paradise

p r a iri e


honey locust blackberry catalpa

Figure 55

eastern red cedar

From top to bottom: Sumacs in the prairie. A mixture of grasses growing through rubble. Honeysuckles amidst rubble.

honeysuckle cottonwood

hackberry mulberry

japanese honeysuckle




siberian elm



Figure 54

Breakdown of vegetation types and species.

site vegetation The vegetation on the site is very diverse, ranging

large geographic area.

offer valuable educational experiences as well as a

from native species (oak, etc) to alien invasives (tree

The vegetation on the site can be divided into three

productive wildlife habitat.

of paradise, japanese honeysuckle, etc). Some of

groups (see Figure 54): canopy (trees), understory

the species may have come from neighboring prop-

(shrubs and small trees), and prairie (grasses,

erties, while some may have come from migrating

legumes, and perennials). Each of these spaces

wildlife, making the site a product of a potentially

offers a unique experience and, if preserved, could analysis • 27

soil conditions Overall, the soil quality on the site is very low. Forty

as the reason for not developing the site (although no

years of vegetation has created a shallow layer of

formal soil study has ever been done); however, any

top soil, but underneath that, the original Pruitt-Igoe

contaminants from Pruitt-Igoe would have been bro-

rubble is still there. The rubble (both the original and

ken down by weathering or leached down to the bed-

that from the mid-1990s from the construction of the

rock by now. The only possible contamination would

convention center and Savvis Center) has created a

be from recently deposited materials, which may need

very alkaline climate, making it suitable only for weed

to be removed.

Figure 56

Study of general soil conditions on site.

species. The city has cited lead and asbestos contamination

alka li



compac ted soil

nd the city ou


alkaleachin l g al ine

rub b

i ne

le + debris dumped



alka l

low N,P,K

[pH+++] ini




cted a p com

low nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium

[rubble] b rub

le + debris dumped

nd the city ou


28 • analysis




low nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium


Section 1: entrance to the substation

3 2 4 5

Section 2: rubble piles south of the substation

Section 3: road to the east of the substation

Section 5: eastern end of Dickson Street

Figure 57

Sections through the main paths of the site.

Section 4: western end of Dickson Street

experiencing the site Although most of the site is flat (approximately an

The mounds are as shallow as a foot tall (Sections

average 1.5% slope across the entire site), the rubble

1 and 4) which act as edges to the paths, or as high

mounds that have been dumped on the site for the

as six or seven feet (Sections 3 and 5), creating a

past 15 years add unexpected drama (see Figure 57).

tunnel-like effect.

analysis • 29

Figure 59

Photograph of Dickson Street today. Oak on the right is a remnant from Pruitt-Igoe.

Figure 60

Photograph of sidewalk along Dickson Street today.

new soil and plant debris recent rubble layer of new soil rubble from Pruitt-Igoe Figure 58

Conceptual section of the layers of rubble on the site, including one of the new rubble mounds.

traces of pruitt-igoe Although on the surface all traces of Pruitt-Igoe have

The history of the site is also evident in the vegetation

the next thirty years, a layer of new soil formed over

been completely removed from the site, one can still

that covers the site. A few trees from Pruitt-Igoe still

the Pruitt-Igoe rubble, only to be covered in the mid-

find evidence that it was there. First, there are a few

grow on the site (Figure 59). Additionally, the rubble

1990s by municipal rubble (see Figure 58).

physical traces: Dickson Street (Figures 59 and 60),

left from the demolition created very harsh conditions

the electrical substation (Figure 64), and the side-

(e.g: high soil pH, soil compaction, and rubble) that

walks along the edge of the site.

only a few plants can survive (see Figure 54). Over

30 • analysis

experiencing the site The vegetation and rubble on the site create a variety of experiences: an urban escape, a tunnel, a frame for the city.

Figure 61.

Top center: The branches of honeysuckles create a low maze. Top right: The debris has created a small clearing in an otherwise dense grove of honeysuckles. Middle left: The combination of the understory honeysuckles and the trees create a unique vaulted tunnel feeling. Middle center: The branches of honeysuckles create a tunnel-like effect. Middle right: The vegetation along Dickson St. frames the view of the city. Bottom left: The prairie on the southern edge frames the view to the downtown. Bottom center: A recent pile of rubble is softened by vegetation.

analysis • 31

Figure 62.

Panorama of Dickson Street today.

Figure 63.

Transition between forest and prairie across from Gateway Middle School.

Figure 64.

Electrical substation in the middle of the site (owned by Ameren UE).

an urban escape Immediately upon entering the site, you feel as if

is almost completely overgrown (see Figure 62). In

Igoe), which is still in use. It provides the greatest

you’ve left the city behind. The dense vegetation,

other areas, like the prairies, almost all building rem-

contrast between forest and urban infrastructure (see

rubble piles, and pieces of old infrastructure combine

nants have been completely covered up (see Figure

Figure 64).

to create a unique urban escape.

63). The only part of the site that is maintained is the

Dickson Street, the only street left from Pruitt-Igoe,

electrical substation (which is a remnant of Pruitt-

32 • analysis

25th S t.


Grace Baptist Church




23rd S t.



22nd St.

Rhema Baptist Assembly Church

Thomas St.

Jefferson Ave.

St. Louis Fire Department





524 520 512

Church of the Living God504


n St.

Bell Ave. 532



516 528 528


St. Stanislaus Church



5 528

Division St.








ps S

20th S 524





Gamble St.



Gateway Middle School

512 52





N. 22n d

entrance 4 foot contour interval

residential industrial

church school


rubble mounds


remaining tree (Pruitt-Igoe)

Figure 65.



NJROTC Academy oldest tree growth

sumac, goldenrod


tree of paradise, siberian elm, hackberry

honey locust, catalpa, honeysuckle

Site inventory of PruittIgoe site and immediate surroundings.

site inventory Although the dense vegetation makes it difficult

est growth (compiled from old satellite imagery, see

The only real topography on the site comes from the

to make a comprehensive inventory, it is possible

Figure 53), the location of the rubble, and the main

rubble mounds.

to map out the major components of the site: the

paths through the site. Overall, the site is fairly flat,

general vegetation communities, the areas of old-

with an overall slope of 1.5% towards the river (east). analysis • 33


site scale

vacant land and derelict buildings detract from neighborhood perception

many of the buildings fronting Jefferson and Cass are falling apart; no street life

industrial buildings divide the neighborhood and contribute to negative perception

new residential developments are insular, cut off from the streets and the neighborhood

site issues superblock (from Pruitt-Igoe) creates a disconnect between site and neighborhood

messy edge (fence and weedy plants) creates perception of danger, wildness

site bounded by chain-link fence, cut off from neighborhood

truck access road is entrance for dumpers

electrical substation (owned by Ameren UE) divides the site

perception of crime – neighborhood is not a destination

rubble mounds around paths are from construction downtown – possible contamination spontaneous vegetation on site seems wild, dangerous

site has been used for local dumping steep grade changes create drainage issues

school parking lot creates strong site boundary – difficult to connect to surroundings, prevents traffic from penetrating the superblock

sharp boundary between Desoto Park and forest

Jefferson and Cass are too wide for the amount of traffic they carry

4 foot contour interval

34 • synthesis

retention basin makes site entry from school grounds difficult

22nd Street dead-ends into site

Murphy Park housing development is close to site, but is separated by open fields and Desoto Park

Figure 66

Compilation of site issues

proximity of vacant land – can create new green infrastructure

site opportunities

proximity to arterial roads (Jefferson and Cass) – connection to downtown, other districts

proximity to new homes

urban forest: a unique ecosystem of spontaneous vegetation

size: 33 acres – big enough to service the city, make an impact as a forest

variety of microclimates, experiences on site mounds create drama in an otherwise flat landscape

urban escape – seems disconnected from the city

rubble: pieces of history

site of Pruitt-Igoe: rich history, internationally known

views to downtown

Figure 67

Compilation of site opportunities 4 foot contour interval

proximity to schools – make site an educational amenity

variety of entrances – open to different parts of the neighborhood

connection to Desoto Park – extend programming? synthesis • 35


revitalization efforts in Old North St. Louis are bounded by industry, large streets

many of grand historic homes have fallen into disrepair or been torn down

district scale

district issues

vacant land contributes to negative perception of the area

once commercial centers, main streets are now mostly fronted by industry, vacant land, or derelict buildings

Delmar Blvd. is a strong perceptual barrier that many people are wary of crossing

park system is disconnected, many of the parks are in poor condition


ar Blv d.


much of the new housing is isolated, inward-focused, and not engaged with the neighborhood

Figure 68

Compilation of district issues

36 • synthesis

industrial district cuts site off from downtown, river


downtown life, economy completely separated from north city




.1 miles

some pockets of historic homes still exist (may need work, but character is still intact)

district opportunities

strong community-based revitalization efforts (residential and commercial) in Old North St. Louis

multiple schools within close proximity (elementary, middle, and high schools) corridor of vacant land could connect Pruitt-Igoe site and St. Louis Place Park

site close to several arterial streets – easy access to downtown, other districts vacant land could be a huge opportunity, for large- and smallscale interventions. could create a new green infrastructure to reorganize city

urban forest on site is one of the only such places in the city – can provide connection between downtown mall and St. Louis Place Park

new housing in close proximity to vacant land – could be used to provide amenities


the city has begun to work on enhancing its park system, specifically the Arch and City Garden

close proximity to the central business district, downtown

Figure 69

Washington Avenue (recent recipient of APA Great Streets Award) is very close to site – possible extension?





.1 miles

linear park systems (downtown mall and St. Louis Place Park) could be extended, connected

Compilation of district opportunities synthesis • 37


vision + catalyst

finding a purpose Given the site’s history, current context, and overgrown state, can it be catalytic again? If so, how? Can its current conditions be reimagined to be a catalyst for the neighborhood and for the city as a whole?

vision Reinstate the site as a focus of the community and a center for a green intervention in the neighborhood by embracing and repurposing the urban nature on the site.

38 • concept

chain reaction: why could the site be catalytic for the city? - size - 33 acres: large enough to serve city and neighborhood - location - proximity to downtown and Old North St. Louis - surrounded by arterials - surrounded by vacant land - filling a hole - ecologically: creating a new 21st century park centered around urban forest - physically: reconnecting the site to the fabric of the surrounding neighborhood - socially: providing a new center for the neighborhood that can be the focus for spreading revitalization - culturally: new perspective for vacant land – repurposing to add value - legacy of Pruitt-Igoe - site was instrumental in decline of the city, which has been too traumatized by its outcome to want to deal with it - international notoriety – an intervention on the site would automatically attract attention, positively or negatively (perhaps part of the reason why the site has never been developed)


what is city.forest?

Given the site’s context of vacant land, decaying hous-

Because the current condition of the site is so wild,

paths lead you through open meadow, tree canopies,

ing stock, and negative perception, how can the site’s

some kind of transition is needed from the neighbor-

and the dense understory. The rubble that used to

current conditions be reimagined to have a beneficial

hood to the main body of the forest: this is the city

cover the site has been transformed into a beautiful

social function? My solution is to link the site to its

character (see Figure XX). This area draws on the site’s

sculpture or a bench, showcasing the site’s contribu-

larger St. Louis context and transform it into a new

history and its current context, creating garden rooms

tion to the new St. Louis character.

kind of park that celebrates the urban forest as an

and community gardens in the footprints of the origi-

educational opportunity and ecological treasure.

nal homes to accommodate neighborhood activities. Within the forest, the experience is entirely different:

city forest is... the function of the site - combination of and forest park (St. Louis icons) (see Figure 50). - provides a different kind of park experience – a forest – within an urban context - is a different kind of forest, a distinctly urban forest with an ecological function

and the experience of the site - a transition from urban context to the forest (contrast between the two) (see Figure 51). - an urban escape - pull out different components of urban forest and highlight them (different expressions) - parts of site are forest within city, others are city within forest

- cultivating an appreciation of new urban aesthetic - part of new St. Louis character: embracing perception of neglect + dereliction by repurposing what others see as junk to create art - part of site character: embracing history as city’s hidden dump and city’s failure by bringing out its potential and bringing in other urban debris

- make city and forest places with same plant + material palettes

concept • 39


objectives + strategies


reconnect site to neighborhood break up superblock draw adjacent neighborhood activities onto site transition from urban fabric to forest remember history of the neighborhood


make site an educational destination


explore expressions of urban nature particular to this site

draw on proximity to local schools by providing classes, playgrounds establish nature center on site use educational trails and signage to help appreciate unique ecology

preserve as much of forest as possible make forest easier to understand by breaking it down to component parts cultivate an appreciation of new urban aesthetic by making elements both beautiful and useful


reveal and honor the memories, impact of Pruitt-Igoe


repurpose vacant land to transform it from liability to amenity, add value to community (part of new St. Louis character)

echo buildings’ iconic form in memorial, Igoe tower preserve Dickson Street’s current experience create exhibit in nature center that chronicles the story of Pruitt-Igoe and highlights its social dimensions

integrate into larger network of green infrastructure connect to larger city context: Forest Park, City Garden, City Museum

6 40 • concept

make site a catalyst for north city link with ring of revitalization at the district scale (economic, residential, and green infrastructure)

+ play opportunities (making sculpture interactive)

local treasure restore order of ecosystems

fulfilling a “centuryold dream”

educational programs

layout based on property lines from Sanborn map

human-ecosystem design method (park for humans + wildlife)

catalyst of downtown development transformation of a barrier into an amenity (bridge to downtown)

draw together city, larger community Figure 70. + forest park

combining local icons A name can make or break a project, and to

draws from two of St. Louis’ local icons: For-

public sculpture garden on the downtown mall.

replace a name like Pruitt-Igoe, a strong name

est Park, a 19th century park near the edge of

In addition to the name, what lessons can be

is needed; one that evokes familiarity and fits

the city (see Figure 40) that recently received

drawn from these two icons? (See Figure 70).

in with St. Louis. City Forest can be just that; it

a successful redesign, and City Garden, a new

concept • 41

confronting vacant land: strategies for reuse Rather than a liability, vacant land should be thought

spaces that are usually ignored. How can that be ap-

coming the center for a new corridor of green infra-

of as areas of opportunity to be counted among the

plied at a city scale? A renaissance in St. Louis means

structure that would begin to spread through the dis-

city’s assets. The presence of vacant land presents

rethinking vacant land, especially in north city, which is

trict (see Figure 65). The chart below illustrates some

“a unique opportunity to re-figure the city to meet the

fast becoming a vacant district (see Figure 26). Attack-

of the many options for the infrastructure; more than

needs of the 21st century.” (Terra Incognita p. 164).

ing the Pruitt-Igoe site without connecting it back to

simply agriculture or parks, the corridor could begin to

With so much vacant land in the district, what is the

the neighborhood would create another Pruitt-Igoe: an

function economically, ecologically, socially and cultur-

best possible way to use it given the context? How

island within a broken neighborhood.


can other cities’ examples be applied to St. Louis?

My concept for the site includes connecting it to the

Part of the project is embracing those wild urban

neighborhood physically and programmatically, be-

Purpose, driving force

Benefit, Function corporation, city government





42 • concept

Examples development, urban agriculture (biofuel crops), large-scale urban farming, deconstruction (waste salvage), greenways/trails (alternative transportation), tourist attractions (parks, museums, etc.), street edge improvement, housing and development

local communities, neighborhood associations

market gardens, greenways/trails (alternative transportation)

- environmental - ecological (flora and fauna) - regional - metropolitan - local

composting, watershed restoration (regional scale), stream daylighting, stormwater management (local), ecological corridors, ecosystem services (urban heat island effect attenuation, carbon sequestration, etc.)

- health: physical mental - recreation - community-building

community gardens/farming, parks and park networks, side yard expansion, greenways/trails, market garden

- preservation, reconstruction of historical elements - memorial - contribute to neighborhood’s & city’s character, identity

public art zones, museums and historic homes/sites, memorials


hybrid programming

To be what Pruitt-Igoe was meant to be, the site needs to fill the originally envisioned role of Pruitt-Igoe as a focus of community and respond to the trends of a new century.

21st century park



- revealing site history

- community center

- urban nature

- school

- green infrastructure system

- playgrounds

- an urban escape

- sitting areas

- connection to the neighborhood

how can the site fill its original role?

perception of danger urban forest Pruitt-Igoe

1. Dealing with the issues on the site. rubble (+ pollution)

2. Reconnecting it with the neighborhood it was isolated from and whose decline it caused.

- educational program (experiential + traditional)

“St. Louis has been too traumatized by its urban renewal failures to want to face that scar. A new narrative would allow the site to be seen as either a natural or development asset whose future offers a chance for urban innovation.” – Michael Allen, Preservation Research Office

concept • 43




nature center space-frame structure



fore city st

Pruitt-Igoe memorial Figure 71.

Dividing site into city and forest


44 • concept

How can you take the name of the site and

a contrast to highlight the unique aspects of

together to honor the memories of the true

embed it in the landscape, so that it informs

the forest and create an experience that can be

legacy of Pruitt-Igoe: the people who lived there

the experience of the site? In my concept, the

shared with the whole city: the nature center

who created strong bonds of community despite

city along the edge is the transition from the

and space-frame structure provide a new per-

the horrible conditions.

urban fabric to the rich urban forest, and the two

spective for viewing the city and the Pruitt-Igoe

examples of city within the forest both provide

memorial provides a place for the city to come

Figure 72

Major spaces and circulation.

spatial concept The outer spaces within City Forest are directly

The main spaces on the site (the nature cen-

sculpture or gardens to highlight the contrast of

influenced by their surroundings: agriculture

ter and the Pruitt-Igoe memorial) are located

the urban escape.

based on the original building footprints along

in glades within the forest. The main vehicular

Cass Avenue; community orchards, picnic areas,

circulation on the site goes through both of

and playgrounds pull from the churches and

these spaces, connecting them directly to the

schools on the interior of the block.

surrounding streets. The other glades contain concept • 45


embracing wilderness blackberry

siberian elm



street tree or in tree nursery

wildlife habitat

honeysuckle honey locust mulberry

edible fruits aster

ornamental garden beds


Figure 73

Potential uses of some of the species found on the site.

utilizing found items An important part of promoting a new urban

purposes (see Figure 73).

species on the site that would be useful addi-

aesthetic is making people appreciate the

Several of the tree species on the site can be

tions to community gardens. Finally, some of the

components of the urban forest. Although the

used as street trees to help beautify the sur-

prairie species could become low-maintenance

vegetation on the site is dominated by weed

rounding neighborhoods. In addition to provid-

additions to ornamental garden beds. (For more

species, some of the species can have practical

ing food for wildlife, there are several edible

complete list, see Figure 74).

46 • concept


plants paving pieces

element mounds wood


sculptural elements in landscape


Figure 74




shrubs edibles

can be used in playground area


reused as paving (barney rubble)

fruit, color can be appreciated if singled out

reused as paving (barney rubble)

orchard area for community use; food for wildlife

exploring the tree canopy

form, color can be appreciated if singled out

community forest, tree nursery for street plantings throughout neighborhood


Giving rubble a purpose.

reusing and recycling: new st. louis character How can you create an appreciation of this new wild

I believe this concept would be accepted in St. Louis

the City Museum: an indoor and outdoor playground

urban aesthetic? By giving each of the components

because it has already been tested, though not at a

made of recycled trash (see Figures 87-90).

parts of this urban forest a dual-purpose: to be beauti-

landscape level. Fifteen years ago, a man named Bob

This project is almost wholly responsible for the rebirth

ful and useful.

Cassilly turned an abandoned garment factory into

of Washington Avenue downtown (see Figure 96).

Figure 75

Figure 76

Figure 77

Figure 78

Exterior play structure at the City Museum.

Exterior play structure at the City Museum.

Exterior play structure at the City Museum.

Interior staircase at the City Museum. concept • 47



community gardens are an extension of the future agriculture across the street in the vacant lots (see Figure 91). like the planting beds, the garden design is inspired by the area’s historic homes

picnic area and community orchard

widened sidewalks and the addition of street trees along Jefferson and Cass create a more pedestrian scale (see Figure 91).

pattern of planting beds and garden rooms inspired by building footprints of the homes that were here before Pruitt-Igoe

city.forest plaza is the main focus of the site, with the nature center on the north side of the street and the space frame structure on the south (see Figure 86).

tree nursery

one of two playgrounds on the site to give children from nearby schools and apartments a place to play.

memorial to Pruitt-Igoe (see Figure 95). 0

48 • design




Figure 79

city.forest masterplan


design principles

Figure 80

Figure 81

reestablishing a street-grid

circulation hierarchy original fabric

from Pruitt-Igoe

vehicular traffic

current service road

primary pedestrian

secondary pedestrian

community gardens (extension of agriculture)

community orchard playground

edible site plants picnic area

tree nursery

tree nursery + edible site plants

Figure 82

site programming

nature center

outdoor classrooms

Pruitt-Igoe memorial

neighborhood use

Figure 83 city domestic scale (open-ended activities)

city domestic scale (more structured neighborhood activities)

engaging the edge conditions

how it works City Forest combines urban elements (formal grid,

ger on the site, a formal grid inspired by the history

ments: those along Jefferson and Cass are more for-

agriculture, playgrounds, the original housing lay-

of the neighborhood maintains sight-lines through

mal and, with the exception of the urban agriculture,

out) with the more organic elements of the forest

the site (see Figure 80). Although local traffic is al-

serve as place-holders for possible future develop-

(meadows, glades, meandering paths, complex plant

lowed on the site to access the nature center and the

ment (see Figures 82 and 83).

palette) to create a hybrid of the two.

schools, the streets remain pedestrian-oriented (see

To help combat the perception of wildness and dan-

Figure 81). The edges of the site mark the urban ele-

design • 49


city.forest plaza

plaza design is a distinctly urban expression within a forest; paving design shows connection site to district (see Figure 85).

the nature center houses community rooms, an exhibit about Pruitt-Igoe, and exhibits about the unique ecology on the site

the space frame structure allows visitors to experience a different level of the forest and enjoy spectacular views of the neighborhood (see Figure 86).




Figure 84

The main public open space on the site. 50 • design

elevated walkways lead off the space-frame structure and wind their way through parts of the forest (see Figure 90).

outdoor classrooms and maze

Figure 85

Contrast between urban plaza and wild prairie.

Figure 86

Section through space-frame structure

city.forest plaza How do you create a city experience within a forest?

ure 86) provides a direct view to downtown, and the

tors to immerse themselves in the experience of the

The main public open space on the site is supposed

paving pattern across the plaza is based on the street

tree canopy.

to provide a contrast, emphasizing the urban forest

grid: going from a prairie patch on the north side of

The nature center and its grounds house both educa-

around it. How do you create a city experience with

the street (the project site) to a series of low climbing

tional and community amenities: outdoor classrooms,

the same plant palette? A grid of trees mark the space

mounds on the south side of the street which rep-

an edible plants garden, rooms for neighborhood

as distinctly urban and creates a more formal feeling

resent the downtown mall. The paving is made from

groups, a variety of exhibits about the flora and fauna

for the entrance to the nature center and the open-

recycled granite curbs. Although it is a small detail,

of the site, and a permanent exhibit on the history of

frame structure.

the significance of the pattern may be visible to some

Pruitt-Igoe, highlighting the experiences of its resi-

The plaza is designed to reinforce the site’s place

people, especially in the winter when the trees in the


within downtown (see Figure 84). The open-frame

plaza are bare. An elevated walkway leads off an

structure (on the south side of the street – see Fig-

upper level of the space-frame structure, allowing visidesign • 51



Figure 87

Figure 88

Figure 89

“falling fruit”

A teaching opportunity

Climbable mounds.

component parts Because an urban forest is so complex, it can be

Forest Walk (see Figure 90) transports the visitor from

Gardens to teach classes about botany.

overwhelming if experienced all at once, especially

the understory into the tree canopy, providing a new

Finally, transforming the rubble mounds that were on

when its components are wild. I propose that transi-

perspective of the site and its connection to the city.

the site into a series of low, climbable mounds (see

tioning from urban fabric to the forest, and then high-

“Falling fruit” (see Figure 87) is a sculpture in the or-

Figure 89) makes them more acceptable and caps any

lighting different experiences along the journey (ex-

chard that displays tires found on the site in a whimsi-

potentially hazardous materials.

ploring tree canopies or marvelling at sculptures made

cal manner and can also be used as a tire swing.

out of found materials) can cultivate an appreciation of this new urban aesthetic.

Using some of the wood found on the site to create a larger-than-life teaching model (see Figure 88), programs could partner with the Missouri Botanical

52 • design

Figure 90

Perspective of forest walk. design • 53

Figure 91

Figure 92

Community garden

New street edge

the city edge The edge condition is one of the most crucial parts of

pedestrian friendly: narrowing the roads, repairing

community gardens (see Figure 91) mark the start of

the design because it draws people in and marks the

the sidewalks, planting trees and flowers (see Figure

a new corridor of green infrastructure leading from

transition between the neighborhood and the park,

92). The edge of the site along Jefferson and Cass

the site – a way for the city to use the vacant land in a

between city and forest.

is made up of a series of garden rooms and planting

more productive manner.

To begin to pull people out of the housing enclaves

beds (both agricultural and ornamental) that are part

and onto the streets, the streets need to be more

of the more familiar domestic pattern and scale. The

54 • design

Figure 93

Figure 94

Stairs in space-frame structure leading to the forest walk.


a sense of wonder Equally important to traditional education about the

whimsy and wonder to be found in City Forest. A pile

the site and the city (see Figure 93), as well as a way

site are the experiential qualities of the site. The large

of tires can become a dragon and sections of pipe

to get closer to nature.

number of schools in proximity to the site (see Figure

can become a tunnel (see Figure 94). The space-

46) offers a unique opportunity to explore potential

frame structure provides an entirely new way to view design • 55

Figure 95

Stairs in space-frame structure leading to the forest walk.

true legacy

56 • design

Although this project is about moving forward

er to form tight-knit communities in the wake of

inscribed. In the corridor, the path is surrounded

from the legend of Pruitt-Igoe, it is important to

the violence. After Pruitt-Igoe was demolished,

by rubble, symbolizing both the destruction

pay homage to the true legacy of Pruitt-Igoe:

they were scattered throughout the city. Their

of the project and the danger in the glass cor-

the people who lived there. Despite the horrific

memorial is simple in design: the footprint of

ridors. The middle of the memorial is four steel

living conditions and constant maligning from

one of the buildings, with either end serving as a

columns, where the elevator would have been,

the press, some of the residents banded togeth-

forecourt where the residents’ memories will be

standing erect like a tower amidst the meadow.


district concept


next steps: building community


my + revita li


In order to truly become catalytic, the project needs to


move beyond its boundaries and begin to affect positive change in the neighborhood. I wanted to coordinate strategic growth from several points to eventually create

north, which could eventually become a corridor of green infrastructure (incorporating parks, stormwater manage-

rastr u

moves through neighborhoods and side streets, creating more diverse communiites

n inf

to potential agriculture in the swath of vacant land to the

creates a diverse corridor of new green infrastructure: agriculture, stormwater management, public parks, etc.


The urban edge of city.forest provides a perfect transition


a ring of revitalization (see Figure 65).

ment, etc). The economic and residential revitalization efforts in Old


North St. Louis have been very successful, and could


h St.

eventually start to bring back some of the economy along

Loui s

the major streets of the neighborhood. Washington Avenue, which just won an APA Great Streets

eventually connects with Old North St. Louis (which is blocked to the south by industry)

Award, is slowly growing west, and I think that it could slowly grow northward to connect downtown to north

follows major streets, slowly growing towards north city



stree t

Wash in

city mus eum

scap e

+ eco

nom y


Figure 96

conceptual district masterplan

city garden

the arch

design • 57


pruitt-igoe’s legacy As we move into the 21st century, Pruitt-Igoe needs a new narrative. Although historians like Michael Allen and Katherine Bristol have tried to unravel the twisted threads of its history, the site remains untouched – full of promise but hindered by its current conditions and the shadow of its past. By becoming City Forest the site can reconnect to its fractured neighborhood, reveal and honor the memories of Pruitt-Igoe, preserve its rich ecology, connect with the new character of St. Louis, and become a catalyst for the district. Instead of remaining an urban scar, the site can finally fulfill its potential. By understanding the complex history of the site, its implications, and how it connects to the city today, you can create a St. Louis solution to a St. Louis problem.

58 • conclusion

list of references Allen, Michael. Preservation Research Office, architectural historian. Personal interview, 30 December 2011. Barton, Craig E. Sites of Memory: Perspectives on Architecture and Race. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2001. Print. Baybeck, Brady, and E T. Jones. St. Louis Metromorphosis: Past Trends and Future Directions. St. Louis: University of Missouri Press, 2004. Print. Birmingham, Elizabeth. “Reframing the Ruins: Pruitt-Igoe, Structural Racism, and African American Rhetoric as a Space for Cultural Critique.” International Journal of Architectural Theory. 1998. Bright, Elise M. Reviving America’s Forgotten Neighborhoods: An Investigation of Inner City Revitalization Efforts. New York: Garland Pub, 2000. Print. Bristol Katherine G, “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth”, edited by Eggener Keith L, American Architectural History: A Contemporary Reader, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2004 Freidrichs, Chad, Jaime Freidrichs, Paul Fehler, Brian Woodman, Benjamin Balcom, and Jason Henry. The Pruitt-Igoe Myth. Columbia, Mo.: Unicorn Stencil, 2011 Gallagher, John. Reimagining Detroit: Opportunities for Redefining an American City. Detroit, Mich: Wayne State University Press, 2010. Print. Gordon, Colin. Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. Print. Greenstein, Rosalind, and Yesim Sungu-Eryilmaz. Recycling the City: The Use and Reuse of Urban Land. Cambridge, Mass: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 2004. Print. Hough, Michael. City Form and Natural Process: Towards a New Urban Vernacular. London: Routledge, 1989. Print Hurley, Andrew. Beyond Preservation: Using Public History to Revitalize Inner Cities. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2010. Print. Pruitt-Igoe Now: The Unmentioned Modern Landscape. Competition Brief. < wp-content/uploads/2011/07/CompetitionBrief_PruittIgoeNow.pdf> Rainwater, Lee. Behind Ghetto Walls: Black Families in a Federal Slum. Chicago: Aldine Pub. Co, 1970. Print. Rainwater, Lee. “The Lessons of Pruitt-Igoe.” National Affairs. No. 8, Summer 1967. <> Rosenfeld, Richard. Hidden Assets: Connecting the Past to the Future of St. Louis. St. Louis: Missouri Historical Society Press, 2006. Print. Sandweiss, Eric. St. Louis: The Evolution of an American Urban Landscape. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001. Print.

conclusion • 59

City Forest: Embracing Dereliction & Wilderness to Restore a Modern Icon  
City Forest: Embracing Dereliction & Wilderness to Restore a Modern Icon  

While the image of the implosion of the infamous Pruitt-Igoe project continues to shock the world of architecture and planning, the site its...