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Sabine Horlitz: "The Construction of a Blast: No Random Crisis. The 1972 Demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe Public Housing Project"

The various positions one can take in the discussion about the shift from the fordist to the postfordist city also imply an evaluation of society’s present-day social concepts and urbanization processes. In the debate on the historic interpretation, the symbollically charged image of the 1972 demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe public housing project has often been drawn on as evidence for the failure not only of the architectural project of modernity but also of social welfare public policies. Both in architecture- and urban planning theory as well as in actual politics it has been used to indicate the crisis of the fordist urbanization model. Yet, this overly use of the image cannot only be seen as a somehow insufficient or superficial illustrative argument in a political debate. Through its extensive reproduction and respective decontextualization it finally serves as a means of depolitization and naturalization of the very thing it points at, the urban crisis – and thus legitimizes the subsequent postfordist measures as both adequate and inevitable.

Starting from the assumption that there is neiter such thing as a natural crisis, nor one which just happens beyond the play of power relations, the paper aims at discussing the predominant pictorial politics of Pruitt-Igoe’s representation by linking the notion of the urban crisis to the extensive use of the blast’s image and by contrasting both issues with the collective grass roots actions of the tenants as well as the state-run social programs undertaken in the last years of the project’s existence.

About the Author

Sabine Horlitz, architect, urban researcher and co-editor of the political architectural journal An Architektur; since 2008 DFG fellow at the Center for Metropolitan Studies, TU Berlin

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