For many architects who have their educational backgrounds in the euphoric age of -> Modernism with its great cult figures like LeCorbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright etc., the name Pruitt-Igoe was a tremendous shock. The age of Modernism was at its end. Pruitt-Igoe was the name of a large modern district in St. Louis, Missouri, consisting of mostly 14 storied, clean, geometrical, highly functional buildings, designed by a famous architect, Minoru Yamasaki. The settlement was built according to modern ideals of the times and won an award of the American Institute of Architects in 1951. On July 15th 1972 at 3.52 p.m. large parts were bombed down. Not by an air strike during war - it was peacefully dynamited! But the results were the same: ruins. After a very short time, after only 20 years, it had become rubbish. The crime rate was high, social costs rose and it had become a slum area.
Twenty years is a very very short 'life expectancy' for buildings in view of the tremendous investments! Compare it with pre-modern architecture which, for example in European Cities survived over hundreds of years and still is, in Italy or France, the main attraction for much tourism! Its inhabitants earn money from it! There must be something wrong with the way we conceive architecture and urbanism. -> Modern Architecture and Urbanism
Charles Jencks rhetorically used the Pruitt-Igoe incident to declare ' the death of modern architecture ' and to call out ' Post-Modernism' . But this was a very superficial manoeuvre. Modernism was reduced to a merely timely phenomenon, simply a ' style ' (a term which modernism had vehemently rejected), and a new 'style' was propagated, in fact a semiotically diluted, 'metaphorical' historism.
Not everyone among the architects jumped into this shallow mainstream. There were many people who started to THINK about architecture and urbanism in new ways. Architecture and urbanism were questioned fundamentally, the constitutive structure of these domains in the field of modern knowledge was analysed. The architectural researchers became aware of things which supported their doubts that there was a deeper relation between gigantic failures like Pruitt-Igoe (which is only the tip of an iceberg) and the way we learn, teach and practice architecture today.
Knowledge is based on what one knows. Imagine somebody who calls himself a botanist, but except for orchids he knows nothing about plants. Or, imagine a zoologist who only knows about beautiful animals or butterflies for instance, or a doctor who only cares for beautiful people (some do). The architect considers himself a builder, but does not know what a building is. He only knows about pyramids, palaces and cathedrals (beautiful buildings!) -> Aesthetic definition of architecture , -> Post-medieval myth of the creator-genius (in architecture and art).
We probably would not trust a doctor who only cares for 'beautiful people', evidently because human life and particularly sickness is much wider than just aesthetics. The doctor who only cares for 'beautiful people' would indicate to us, that he has not much serious understanding for his profession and we would consider him a kind of playboy of his own passions.
The role of the architect in modern society is not far from that! Architects are trained today in relatively isolated educational domains (architectural schools) to cultivate their own passions for beauty-design and thus never realise that their knowledge is extremely limited: they think that man is happy if they design beautiful buildings for him. But, aesthetics is not only a very narrow aspect of our modern environment, it is also a very vague and subjective term. Anybody can make his own ready-made theory of beauty in architecture, and then 'build' his 'beauty' into our vital environment. We have to deal with it, even if it makes us sick. If we are lucky, someone blows it up 20 years later. -> Pruitt-Igoe. The unhealthy differentiation of styles and schools in architecture is tremendously increasing all over the world. Jencks counted more than 100 different styles recently. They deconstruct and deform our urban environments into deserts of virtual vanities and increasingly inhumane spaces.
In other words: there are some reasons to assume that the breakdown of modern architecture and urbanism has something to do with a lack of knowledge. The question arises whether the relatively closed and autocratic system of the art critique and the architect is enough to steer the system of our increasingly growing 'built environment'? Is this autocratic cybernetic system, in fact, a very outdated thing? Is it based on a profanised post-medieval myth, the Renaissance myth of the great human creator genius who invents new worlds for the present elite? Are they financing his 'art' into our daily living spaces? Is it enough if we rely on the architect-creator's highpriest, the art historian, who teaches us to sing the songs of what is good and what is evil in our cities? Is this structure maybe at the roots of the failure of the -> gigantic 1 : 1 scale experiment called 'modern architecture' ?
In fact, architecture and urbanism have been rationalised in all dimensions, streamlined with geometry, mathematical proportions, industrialised materials and technological reasoning, etc., but the myth survived. What building and dwelling objectively is in the widest sense in relation to man, was never researched with scientific methods.
This is where architectural research comes in. In 1969 Amos Rapoport 's book 'Built Form and Culture' went around the world and opened the view on an enormous manifold of worldwide architectural traditions. In the past 25 years about 2-3000 professionals of various disciplines including architects got involved in Research into traditional (or vernacular) architecture and settlements all over the world (Architectural Ethnology , EVAW ; IASTE ). The knowledge about architecture has increased tremendously beyond the conventional knowlege of the art historians' 'pyramids, palaces and cathedrals'. This knowledge starts to understand aesthetics and the structure of built space in its anthropological dimensions, as a metalinguistic domain which was swept away by modernism. Modern architecture leaves us 'alone'. Modern society pays for its gigantic architectural and urbanistic opportunism with tremendous social costs.
Some architect's offices have already realised the new trend, particularly those who are engaged on a worldwide level with projects in non-Western cultures. They increasingly employ or engage 'cultural architects ' or 'architectural anthropologists ' as consultants to avoid new disasters in the sense of Pruitt-Igoe.
What will be unavoidable in the near future is an intensification of architectural research . The 'art of healing' in medical practice would be unthinkable today without a tremendous apparatus of research. Architecture and urbanism are at least as important as health, maybe the basis of it. But architecture has no research. One of the largest sectors of any national economy has no scientific base at all. The architect still thinks absolutely subjectively with his pencil! Consequently there are - nearly - as many 'styles' as there are architects. It is not only a tremendous waste to 'design' each building subjectively, it throws our urban spaces into a chaos of unrelated formalisms.
The ultimate goal of Architectural Research is to provide a general and inter-subjectively acceptable knowlege about basic relations between architecture and man. The design of buildings and architecture - as history shows - is one of the faster intercultural diffusions, and one - in the long run - with most important impacts. It would be much cheaper to invest in research beforehand than to repeat Pruitt-Igoe on the global level.
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