Koyaanisqatsi - Pruit Igoe


Koyaanisqatsi is a Hopi word which means "life in turmoil, life out of balance." The 1982 film by Godfrey Reggio, with music by Philip Glass, explores the urban landscape through time-lapse photography and slow motion filming. The music of Philip Glass adds a haunting and unsettling tone when paired with the powerful imagery. This was the most successful out of the Qatsi trilogy by Reggio, which was followed by Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi.

This segment of the film explores the decay of housing projects in the United States, focusing on that of Pruit Igoe in St. Louis Missouri. Pruit Igoe was designed as a modernist ideal to the housing crisis.  It consisted of 33 11-story apartment buildings on a 57 acre site. Completed in 1955, Pruit Igoe never reached above 60% occupancy, and by the end of the 1960's was completely abandoned and left to decay and attracted vandalism and violence. In April, 1972, demolition of the housing projects had begun. 

The Pruit Igoe housing complex is reminiscent of the 1925 Plan Voisin by Le Corbusier for Paris.  This was his master plan for a housing complex would replace an entire district of Paris on the Right Bank of the Seine.  This plan, which was never seen to fruition, was frowned upon for potentially separating poor communities into high rise buildings and leaving them detached from critical social ties. 

Plan Voisin by Le Corbusier


This frightening look at the failure of the modernist ideal gives a warning to the architects, designers, builders, planners, and citizens of the twenty first century. We can no longer be complacent with our buildings or our people.

In addition to this excerpt, the entire film is an exelent and resonating view into urban life. And although it was made over a quarter century ago, the truths and consequences remain everlasting.

 Pruit Igoe post completion


 Pruit Igoe during demolition