A series of explosions shook the city of St. Louis on March 16, 1972. The first building fell to the ground at 3 p.m. that afternoon. In the months that followed, more than 30 buildings would be turned to rubble.
The buildings that were destroyed were part of the now infamous housing project known as Pruitt-Igoe. When the Pruitt-Igoe housing project opened in 1954 it was believed to be a breakthrough in urban architecture. Spanning 57 acres across the north side of St. Louis, Pruitt-Igoe consisted of 33 high-rise buildings and provided nearly 3,000 new apartments to the surrounding population.
Pruitt-Igoe was designed with cutting-edge ideas from modern architecture. The designers emphasized green spaces and packed residents into high-rise towers with beautiful views of the surrounding city. The buildings employed skip-stop elevators, which only stopped at the first, fourth, seventh, and tenth floors. (Architects believed that forcing people to use the stairs would lessen the foot traffic and congestion in the building.) The buildings were outfitted with “unbreakable” lights that were covered in metal mesh and intended to reduce vandalism. The floors featured communal garbage chutes and large windows to brighten the corridors with natural light.
On paper, Pruitt-Igoe was a testament to modern engineering. In practice, the project was a disaster.