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Architecture and Crime

Learning from mistakes of Pruitt Igoe

What recommendations can be provided?

The article summarizes some identified factors as lessons learned from the literature related to the failure of Pruitt Igoe. At the end, the usefulness of a human science analysis as performed by AAC is explained.

„Pruitt-Igoe was one of the most  comprehensive social housing disasters of the twentieth century that implicates almost every facet of the modern world: cultural, design, institutional, policy, political, management, and planning […] Different people approach the story of Pruitt-Igoe from diverse personal and academic perspectives[13].”

Mark David Major about Pruitt Igoe

The fate of Pruitt Igoe and its demolition seems to have left an unforgettable impression. After the first Family moved into Pruitt Igoe in 1954 and the project demolition of the last buildings in 1976 and some following years [10], the project has been repeatedly used in recent years as an example of lessons for, among others, future projects of social housing, high-rise residential buildings, dealing with slums [15] and urban revitalization [3]. Moreover, despite various ideas for development, the site has not been redeveloped, allowing a forest to become established [10]. 

The article carries together some identified factors as lessons learned from the literature related to the failure of Pruitt Igoe. Finally, the benefits of a human science analysis,, such as those conducted by the AAC, will be explained.

Based on the literature used, mistakes can be identified in the following areas:

1) Social and cultural

2) Financial

3) Management

4) Architecture, planning, technical components [15]

5) Situational revitalization approaches and the human capital revitalization approach [9]

In AAC's work experience, these areas are not special cases, but challenges of many current projects. Moreover, millions of people internationally live in uninhabitable housing [15]. Therefore, the lessons learned from Pruitt-Igoe's mistakes may still be relevant and timely. The article will first address the city level, then the architectural factors, followed by other factors such as the social, the financial and the management.

Situational revitalization approaches and the human capital revitalization approach:

In the situation-based revitalization approach ,areas of urban degradation are revitalized through renovation measures or the construction of new infrastructure with the aim of attracting residents, jobs and investors [9]. In contrast, socially disadvantaged and isolated sites are often chosen for social housing projects [15], indicating that the thinking here is only situational and project-related.

The approach of the human capital activates the resources of the residents, draws attention to structural social inequalities and takes measures to overcome them.  An example of this is need-based services such as providing educational opportunities.

Although both approaches are used in combination, the situational approach dominates.  This is also present for Pruitt Igoe, although the intention was to combine both approaches [9]. 

But what originally created the need for revitalization? After World War II, many city residents moved to the outskirts of the city, which also caused jobs and services to move to these areas. This led to the decline of the urban core, as well as St. Louis, and the emergence of slums. The area in which the Pruitt Igoe project was to be developed was also affected by this.

Project developers, real estate owners and the city administration saw opportunities for revitalization by replacing slums with new building structures [8]. The development was dominated by professional actors and their visions and interests, which led to insufficient consideration of the actual residents and their challenges [9].  This is reflected in the insufficiently flexible and reflexive master plan, which lacked local community advocacy and co-decision. Since neighborhood structures change permanently, especially during revitalization, the continuous participation of residents and the evaluation of the proposed approaches are essential [11].

In this way, the professionals planned from their perspective with what they considered the main problems: the low quality of housing [1] and the lack of housing [10] instead of asking the slum dwellers [1].  In the beginning, the residents were satisfied with their new apartments [3]. But what happened afterwards? Therefore, we will now take a closer look at the built structures.

Architecture, Planning and Technical Components:

Since many residents had never lived in such a comfortable, modern standard before, there was an initial enthusiasm about Pruitt Igoe as a beautiful place to live [10].  Unfortunately, the space requirements were not sufficient for the number of occupants [5]. An example of this is the apartments that are too small for families with mainly several children [10].  In addition, a lack of parking space, insufficient recreational [4] and communal areas could be identified as problematic. Although the isolation and lack of community spirit associated with the last factor in particular is mentioned several times [15], Hansman shows that there were many efforts on the part of the church, the community center and residents until the end of the project. The community helped each other through initiatives for jobs, food or clothes. Furthermore, there were many initiatives and activities such as planting trees. In addition, a school, a day care center, a supermarket and a health clinic were opened. DeSoto Park was also considered a place for sports activities. Residents describe the project as their home and relate mostly positive situations in the early years, where karaoke nights were held on Fridays and women sat outside together. Hansman does not refer to general deficiencies, but rather to a gradual process in which criminality sets in and leads to behaviors such as taking private lessons instead of going to school for safety reasons when criminality increases. Moreover, playgrounds and picnic areas were built in the later years, which were initially considered but not built due to cost reasons [10]. The planned innovative galleries, as meeting places for residents, activity places for children and the additional laundry rooms, fell into disrepair because they were considered dangerous [4, 10], among other things because the residents were unsure who was staying here [10].  The conclusion that experiments and innovation, as in the development of ideas for the galleries, can occasionally lead to structural failures [15], is not correct from the perspective of architectural psychology. Rather, in the case of innovative solutions, it is important to systematically evaluate, develop and thus safeguard them on a scientific basis [7].

Other factors cited are the reduction in the number of community centers, and lack of semi-private areas [18] for a neighborhood fabric [16]. Other challenges included technical problems such as elevator failure and insufficient building insulation [5].

Analysis shows that structural factors contributed significantly to Pruitt Igoe's failure [1].   Other determined factors are now mapped.

Social and Cultural:

A major factor is the separation of the construction phase of the buildings in the Pruitt area for "blacks" and Igoe for "whites," which, however, increasingly developed into a project for low-income "blacks" in its entirety due to the further departure of white residents [1, 10]. Building structures alone do not ensure sustainable integration. The attitude of the residents that promotes integration must also be aligned with this [10]. 

While the article by Samantunga and O'Hare describes vandalism, violence, and organized crime as social challenges [15], from the perspective of architectural psychology, built structures likewise play a significant role in promoting or counteracting these social phenomena [7].

In the case of relocation, other factors must be taken into account, such as relocating slum dwellers to the same place, as this can lead to a vulnerability to crime [15]. Therefore, the combination of approaches is particularly important: a successful crime prevention building approach, a social and demographic approach. These approaches, along with socioeconomic aspects and community cohesion, contribute to community safety [17].

Through interviews with residents after the demolition of Pruitt Igoe, the lack of jobs and services were identified as the biggest challenges [1]. In addition, residents were more satisfied with the neighborliness in the slums than in Pruitt Igoe and at the same time more satisfied with the housing in Pruitt Igoe than in the slums.  Due to the resettlement, relationships that had developed over a long period of time, and thus social networks, broke down.  In sum, this led to the maintenance of poverty and created additional social isolation [18]. This statement contrasts with the recommendation not to relocate all socially disadvantaged people to one place due to crime prevention and remains as an open question in this article. Nevertheless, the Broken Windows Theory is relevant in this context and will be addressed in AAC's next article. According to this theory, social isolation and dissatisfaction with the environment contribute to crime and the willingness to undertake against crime decreases [14].  Furthermore, it was unclear to residents who lived in Pruitt Igoe and which people came from outside and engaged in crime such as prostitution, drug dealing on the first floor and stairwells [18].  Criminality prevailed both within the building structures and additionally came from the outside as well. Moreover, there seems to be a discrepancy between the project's narrative and the residents' perception that they are convinced that the main problems were brought into the project from the outside. [10] 


The literature shows overlaps of financial and management. High-rise complexes of low-income residents encounter financial challenges such as maintenance, management, and keeping the facilities and buildings clean. The variety of common building amenities such as public areas, utilities, elevators, and others play a role here. There is also often a lack of clear regulation of management responsibilities [15]. A valuable approach is to involve stakeholders in creative solutions without applying a single solution model to all projects [6].

Since security was a challenge due to increasing crime, the deployment of one security guard for all 11 buildings and 3000 residents proved to be problematic . Even the replacement of, for example, broken windows with "indestructible materials" could not stop the failure of the project [10]. 


The mix of different buildings envisioned by the architects was changed to uniform 11-story buildings for budgetary reasons [12]. Another factor was the cheap and poor quality materials used [18]. For example, children burned themselves on open pipes and backwater in the pipes caused flooding in the apartments. The residents had to wait a long time for repairs.  In addition, the broken pipes led to the termination of the supply of heat, electricity and water. The broken windows allowed cold and ice to enter the stairwells [10]. The lack of funds for modification or improvement measures also contributed to the failure of the project [3]. 

Other recommendations:

in revitalization include access to the developed area, their interconnectedness with the surrounding region, the design of the outdoor space, the maintenance of the entire project, the impact on local communities, their social networks [2], a sense of community, preventive approaches such as CPTED (crime prevention through environmental design), and [16] the transformation of the negative image towards an attractive environment [19].  Cherniawsky points out the need for a comprehensive and multi-layered analysis, which represents an opportunity for the touched actorss of urban development projects [3]. 

The information provided so far has been taken from various books, film material and magazines. On the basis of what has been said here until now, it is clear that, above all, participatory processes must be applied. In addition, the costs of management and maintenance must be taken into account from the start, and in the case of financial reduction measures, care must be taken to ensure that they secure the quality of life and the needs of the residents. The needs-based focus must be specifically oriented to local challenges such as social inequality. In addition to the many factors listed, AAC understands that there is a lack of systematic consideration of built structures. An architectural-psychological analysis is essential in order to be able to give a systematic list as well as recommendations on the urban planning and architectural level. A systematic approach provides clarity for development and design decisions in the participatory, needs-oriented process of the residents.

In the next articles, we will go into more detail about some phenomena, starting with the Broken Windows theory mentioned above.


[1] Bristol, K. (1991), “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth.“, Journal of Architectural Education, 44, pages 163-171.

[2] Carmona, M., De Magalhaes, C., Edwards, M. (2002), Stakeholder views on value and urban design, Journal of Urban Design, Volume , Issue 2, pages 145–169.

[3] Cherniawsky, J. (2020), A Framework to Improve Urban Revitalizaton Developed Through a Theoretcal Analysis and Critque of Pruitt-Igoe, TOPOPHILIA, pages 2-13.

[4] Cisneros, H., Bond, L. (2009), From Despair to Hope : Hope VI and the New Promise of Public Housing in America’s Cities, Brookings Institution Press.

[5] Cohn, R. (1985), “Investigating public housing in America – High-Rise Hell”, New York.

[6] Deheragodae, K. (2007), “Living High The Social Dimension”, Institute of Town Planners, Colombo Sri Lanka.

[7] Deinsberger, Harald (2016), Der menschengerechte Lebensraum, Habitat für Menschen, Teil 1, Pabst Science Publishers, Lengerich.

[8] Freidrichs, C., Film: the Pruitt-Igoe myth, streaming online for purchase:, accessed 10.10.23.

[9] Grodach, C., Ehrenfeucht, R. (2016). Urban revitalization: Remaking cities in a changing world, Routledge, Basingstoke.

[10] Hansman, B. (2017), Pruitt-Igoe, Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, South Carolina.

[11] Heskin, A.D. (1980), Crisis and response: A historical perspective on advocacy Planning, Journal of the American Planning Association, Volume 46, Issue 1, pages 50-63.

[12] Hoffman, A. (1993), “Why They Built the Pruitt-Igoe Project”, Joint Centre for Housing Studies, Harvard University.

[13] Major, M. D. (2021), ‘Excavating’ Pruitt-Igoe using space syntax. Arq: Architectural Research Quarterly, 25(1), pages 55-68.

[14] Ren, L., Zhao, J., He, N. P. (2017), Broken Windows Theory and Citizen Engagement in Crime Prevention, Justice Quarterly, Volume 36, Issue 1, pages 1-30.

[15] Samantunga, T., O’Hare, D. (2012), „High density high rise vertical living for low income people in Colombo, Sri Lanka: Learning from Pruitt-Igoe“, Architecture Research, Volume 2, Issue 6, pages 128-133.

[16] Seo, S.,Lee, K. (2017), Effects of changes in neighbourhood environment due to the CPTED project on residents’ social activities and sense of community: a case study on the Cheonan Safe Village Project in Korea, International Journal of Urban Sciences, Volume 2, Issue 3, pages 326-343.

[17] Shaftue, H. (2001), “Crime in high-rise housing – is it the built environment’s fault”, West of England Cities Research Centre, University of the West of England.

[18] Yancey, W. (1971), Architecture, interaction, and social control: The case of a large scale public housing project, Environment and Behavior, Volume 3, Issue 1, pages  3-21.

[19] Zentrale Geschäftsstelle Polizeiliche Kriminalprävention der Länder und des Bundes, Städtebau und Kriminalprävention, Eine Broschüre für die planerische Praxis, Stuttgart.


Direct as well as indirect citations are marked by [numbering] in the text and their listing in the bibliography. The article is based on the literature cited and the professional evaluation of the two authors Janine Müller and Konrad Melzer.


The team

As the AAC team, Janine & Konrad draw attention to challenges related to crime and architecture and point out possible solutions. For them, cities and architecture have a social responsibility and task.

Konrad Melzer

Human centered architecture

Both have a classical university education in architecture and both are specialized in housing and architectural psychology. Janine & Konrad share a devoted interest in living spaces where coexistence and nature can flourish. Safe living spaces support the need for safety and are an essential human right for all.


Janine Müller


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