I first immersed myself into the history of Pruitt-Igoe through the documentary "The Pruitt-Igoe Myth" on Netflix. A fascinating and tragic documentary about the attempts to create a social utopia through architecture by offering a housing complex that promised to rid the city of crime and poverty and provide fair housing to those in need.
Unfortunately (and not to my surprise) the result instead led to two decades of turmoil and ultimately the destruction of the entire complex.
Utopian idealism was the foundation of futurist architects during the 19th century. Their ideas were systematic in their visions but invariably unrealizable. Through the dissolution of past architecture, great minds such as Minoru Yamasaki (The creator of Pruitt-Igoe) were unable to achieve a state of utopia within a society they did not readily understand. Their unwillingness to reevaluate past architectural pursuits isolated their futurist notions and didn’t allow for progressive planning with respect to societal needs.
To begin to understand the utopian visions of past influential architects we must begin with the primarily influential novelists that spurred the ideas of the future. In 1883, Diothas; or, A Far Look Ahead was released by the author John Macnie under the pseudonym “Ismar Thiusen”, that broke ground on the realizations of how a future society could live. Following that, Bellamy’s Looking Backward was released in 1888. Two years later Caesar’s Colum: A Story of Twentieth Century by Ignatius Donnelly was published and finally following these novels was Garden Cities of To-morrow by Ebenezer Howard. Published around the same time, these four fictional novels truly laid the foundation for the visions of architects and resulted in the chaotic urban planning of North America. The conception of urban utopias began in fictional writing. It was the perfect platform for the development of an idea without the necessary responsibility of actually creating it.
I highly recommend the above books as well as the documentary which until recently could be found on Netflix.
Here is a link to a great write up on Pruitt-Igoe in ArchDaily.