You know the photos and the footage. In case you don’t here it is, complete with prevailing attitude courtesy of Robert Hughes.
According to Hughes, “every sort of Corbusian amenity” did not “improve” the tenants, who ripped it apart. I’ve been waiting a while for the film “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth” to become available and now it is, and for a short while (until mid February) it’s streaming freely on the web at World Channel.
As the film will only be up for a short time, and because I can’t stop thinking about it, here’s a very quick run down.
It wasn’t Corbusier who killed this St Louis project. Or Minoru Yamasaki. Tenants initially loved the place – and its cleanliness. It was a far cry from the toxic inner city slums they left. But it wasn’t a popular development with local politicians, bankers and developers – they didn’t mind helping to construct it with federal funds but it had no use to them after that. So there were no funds to maintain the giant complex – all operational costs had to be paid out of the tenants’ rent.
The estate was built in 1952 to cater to an optimistic population explosion in St Louis that never came to pass. Not only did St Louis’s population steadily decrease from then on, it also spread out as the suburban dream took hold. As elsewhere, the city started to empty and rents dropped. Pruitt Igoe was not full, and could not be maintained with the rents of those who remained.
There were good reasons for people to move out and back into private dwellings if they could, but they weren’t architectural. Public housing, according to the film, was a sort of punishment for being poor and you weren’t allowed to forget it. Able-bodied men were not allowed in, so families had to separate to gain access. Fathers were occasionally smuggled in and frequently had to hide in closets. If that doesn’t sound punitive enough, how about the ban on telephones and televisions in the early years?
As the complex deteriorated physically and socially, vandalism increased and drug lords took over empty buildings. Emergency services refused to go anywhere near it. It’s a sobering tale, but its fault lay more with its city fathers and its size, rather than its architecture. This film tells the story well, from the tenants’ point of view.
I recently watched cartoonist Oslo Davis’s Melbhattan. I wondered, from the awkward Anglo-Unami title, whether this might be a reflection of Melbourne’s spruikers’ predilection for magnifying the tiniest evocations of foreign places found in our midst. Come to Melbourne and imagine you’re in New York, Paris… anywhere but Australia. But Davis says he was trying to ridicule this mindset in his film, “to both charm and roast without being mean”. It is a charming piece of work. The roasting doesn’t quite eventuate, probably because Davis was recreating in Melbourne each shot of the brilliant opening sequence to Woody Allen’s “Manhattan”, using locations here, so didn’t have a lot of room to move.
Not that New York hasn’t ever borrowed from the cachet of another place. In 1962 urban planner Chester Rankin christened the area south of Houston St “SoHo”. The reason for the name sticking is probably to do with its close resemblance to Soho in London, which in the ’60s became the swinging place to be thanks to Carnaby Street. Melbourne developers like naming after New York. It’s easy to find blocks of flats with names like ‘Madison’ and ‘Manhattan’. There’s even a ‘Tribeca’ even though it is not in a TRIangle BElow CAnal Street.
South Jersey (NJ) borrowed and transformed SoHo into SoJo. Now areas in Collingwood are becoming known as SoJo (South of Johnston), and NoJo (I’ll leave you to guess that).
The Eastern end of Collins Street has long been nicknamed “Paris End” since the establishment of a small clothes shop with a french name. Now we have a real estate-sponsored “New York End” of Collins Street too. Age contributor Julie Szego rightly thought “Bucharest End” might have been more appropriate.
Melbourne isn’t alone in selling itself as an “almost New York”. Canberrans can soon “wake up in Manhattan” at Manhattan on the Park. They might get slightly less of a surprise when they look out of the window at Penthouse Manhattan in Sydney, or at Manhattan Hill in Hong Kong.
I went looking for an apartment building named after Melbourne, but not in Melbourne. Google couldn’t really understand what I was talking about, but did reveal that a small wedge of Antarctica is named after a long dead Melbourne confectioner know for his white suits.
Well, it’s not an apartment building, but in Seattle’s downtown, we have this: http://www.melbournetower.com/
I stare at it often as I wait for the bus.
Thanks for Melbhattan, it’s beautifully rendered. Each new corner was a memory test and a reminder of home.
This man is making a clever and logical response
to a question that is naive to the point of triviality.
The proposition that the world’s bankers should
in effect buy a massive “world park” from a sovereign
nation for the safeguarding against environmental
degradation (which is the result of chasing profits first)
sounds like a similar idea from the R.C.L. classic
“Corporate Whores Design Utopia”.
by lipsiusr on 5 April 13 ·#
Coming up on the telly on the 28th at 10pm – an ABC documentary about the work and ways of McBride Charles Ryan.
“This intimate documentary observes the pressures of building a multi-story, twin-tower development and a revolutionary new school, in the shape of an infinity symbol, alongside the construction and design of their new family home. It follows Rob and Debbie as they prepare their pitch to win the contract to design and construct a prestigious new billion-dollar building that will be the biggest cancer care centre in the Southern Hemisphere. “
22.02.12 in films
Architect / protaganist: McBride Charles Ryan
Awesome Peter, thanks for the tip !
by Sean on 27 February 12 ·#
Oh dear my inbox is getting a bit full. Sorry if you’ve sent something in and I haven’t gotten to it.
The always interesting architectural communications mob Squint/Opera have the big LED TV in Fed Square to themselves this month – well for an hour a day. So pop down there around 5.30p.m. or 12.30a.m. to see what they’ve been up to. It finishes at the end of August.
Here’s a peek. More here
26.08.10 in films
Architect / protaganist: squint/opera
Still in a daze from having seen Animal Kingdom , a pic about Melbourne’s crime world in the Eighties, even though it’s set in the present day. It’s core event is loosely based on the Walsh Street police killings in 1988. The South Yarra crime scene has moved to Hawthorn, but it still has a Holden Commodore sitting abandoned in the middle of the street. It’s a disturbing film for many Melburnians, but worth watching for the haunting performances of Jacki Weaver and Ben Mendelsohn. And for a less “Tourism Victoria” picture of Melbourne. Rather than a city of trams and trees, we see shipyards, servos, suburbs, and lots of Holdens.
At one point the protagonists need some where to talk in public, without being seen by anyone they know. The audiance bursts into laughter when they move into the National Gallery of Victoria , which gets a nice hero shot of its mousehole facade. Director David Michôd must have a thing for arches, as the only other glimpsed building is the Northcote Bowl . I won’t give the game away, but its a fitting scene for a building that’s just been approved for demolition. It may also be the last time we get to see it.
04.06.10 in films
I have just spent an hour watching Utzon’s ‘Edge of the Possible’, the special edition of which has just been released . Thanks Sue for sending a copy. The gut-wrenching story of the century (for an architect) is familiar to us – Utzon the great Dane arrives, wows a dull mid-century Sydney, develops his design as it is getting built, and after a culture clash with Davis Hughes, resigns or gets fired (depending on how you look at it). The building limps to completion without him. This film fills in the gaps with interviews and rare footage. Arup and the ABC emerge rather poorly from it.
Utzon demonstrating how an orange can be sliced.
Here’s a couple of screen grabs from the extras that came with the film.
This is the lake next to Utzon’s house in Denmark. While frozen, his team used it to stake out the opera house as there was no other area available big or flat enough.
On the lawn, a shot of the segmented dome model, minus the slices that make up the shells.
+ + +
Off on a tangent, my mind wandered to McBride Charles Ryan’s Dome house in Hawthorn.
Doesn’t really look like a dome from above? More a football?
What does Bing think? Dome.
Maybe Norman Day got it wrong when he called it an Australian Academy of Science, “adapted anew.”
ACADEMY OF SCIENCE, CANBERRA, by BIDGEE
Maybe a Dane deserves some credit? Or an American.
Or an Italian.
Arnaldo Pomodoro. Photo: Alan King
23.08.09 in films