The Pruitt-Igoe Myth. 2011. USA. Directed by Chad Freidrichs. Courtesy the filmmaker

Chad Freidrichs’s The Pruitt-Igoe Myth screened here November 2–December 13, 2020. The film is no longer available here for streaming, but you can watch the filmmaker’s introduction below.

In 1939 a swath of the Mississippi riverfront in St. Louis, Missouri, was bulldozed in an effort to “clean up” a dense area of housing occupied by primarily Black and immigrant communities. Nearly two decades later, after the 82-acre area spent years as a parking lot and was split by an interstate, it became the National Historic site on which the Gateway Arch monument was erected.

Such displacements are not new to the evolution of American cities. The systematic disenfranchisement of Black and people of color and their communities throughout the United States was made possible by federal and local laws that promoted restrictive leasing, “redlining” that devalued land and property while disallowing mortgages for people of color, and the subsequent clearing of neighborhoods under the guise of “urban renewal.” In his powerful documentary The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, filmmaker Chad Friedrichs investigates how these longstanding measures led to the neglect and ultimate demise of Pruitt-Igoe, a public housing complex in St. Louis. Relying on original footage, interviews, and architectural analysis, Friedrichs presents us with the voices of former tenants amid Pruitt-Igoe’s domestic and exterior spaces. The film’s narrator describes how “little was said about the laws that built and maintained it, the economy that deserted it, the segregation that stripped away opportunity, the radically changing city in which it stood.”

Friedrichs’s film pointedly dispenses with the notion that architecture alone was at fault for the demise of Pruitt-Igoe. Yet the design of the buildings—created by Minoru Yamasaki, the principal architect of the World Trade Center in New York City—only amplified erroneous policy decisions that resulted in unsafe habitation for all. The events of 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri—alongside inadequate support for the adjacent city of Kinloch, the oldest incorporated Black community in the state—may also be seen as further consequences of the neglect of St. Louis’s BIPOC communities. These were two of the towns to which many of Pruitt-Igoe’s residents retreated after the destruction of their homes.

–Sean Anderson, Associate Curator, Department of Architecture and Design