Architecture: Defensible Space

Every once in a while when I have nothing to do, my interest in architecture attracts my attention again and I surf the web looking for all sorts of info on urban sprawl or interesting buildings or I browse the architecture category on Wikipedia.

Today I came across a list of unfinished buildings on Wikipedia, which is also somewhat interesting. I knew of course about the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona that has been under construction for the past 125 years (I’ve been there), but had never heard of the Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang.

“Construction began in 1987 and ceased in 1992, due to the government’s financial difficulties,” Wikipedia says, and while it’s often said that you should aim for the stars and think big and so forth, it must be a huge disappointment to see your huge project just sitting unfinished and slowly decaying for 20 years, reminding you every day what a failure you are. (I bet the architects don’t live in Pyongyang.)

My search led me further to Pruitt-Igoe, a big housing project in St. Louis, Missouri. It was completed in 1955 and completely demolished by 1978 after it had basically decayed and become a ghetto plagued with crime and more crime. More about Pruitt-Igoe can be found in an interesting term paper by Kevin Law, entitled Pruitt-Igoe: A High-rise Public Housing Failure (here’s the term paper as PDF).

Related to this is the theory of Defensible Space by Oscar Newman, which is also explained better in the article High Rise Hell by Roger Cohn.

If you’re interested in architecture, too, this should make for an interesting reading list.


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