Garden of Indolence

St. Louis, Missouri

Competition Entry [2012]
Pruitt-Igoe Now Competition

Remembering is Forgetting...

The Garden of Indolence is a memorial to not only the people of Pruitt-Igoe, but also the relationship between the man-made and the natural via human experience through light. The project’s intent is to create an experience; one that instills in visitors some of the pain, heartbreak, and sorrow that took place at Pruitt-Igoe, while simultaneously exuding hope.  

Pruitt-Igoe was a place of pain, the Garden of Indolence is now a place of remembrance. Through remembering we find peace.

The Garden of Indolence is a memorial experience that bursts through man-made and natural blankets that have stood on the Pruitt-Igoe site since the 1950s. It is a project that highlights and emphasizes the relationship between man-made and nature by literally lowering the existing forest eleven stories below the city level. Ultimately the effect of this memorial is a focused attention and awareness of the forest, and a calm through the warmth of light.

Man / Nature: By literally lowering the existing forest eleven stories below the city level the project highlights and emphasizes the relationship between man-made and nature. Not isolating the forest from the fabric of the city, this project rather accentuates its natural state via man-made intervention.

People / Experiences: Rather than attempt to memorialize or bastardize the Pruitt-Igoe housing project itself, the Garden of Indolence serves to forever isolate in time events that happened there, and more importantly the people that lived there.

Links / Connections: Bridges connect and create unique links between the different neighborhoods that surround the site that have been severed since the original construction of Pruitt-Igoe.

Though an analysis of the urban structure and population trends in St. Louis, key areas for growth were highlighted. Furthermore, specific locations that have high potential for growth are indicated. Following the increasing trends of population change and property values in land near large open spaces such as Forest Park, the area around the Pruitt-Igoe site has potential to become a high-demand location with a large green-space connecting nearby neighborhoods. 

A Crow Flies Overhead - A Walk-through of The Garden of Indolence

The day is March 16th, 2015. The same date, forty-three years earlier, the first tower of Pruitt-Igoe was demolished. The sun’s rays bounce off of the tops of buildings in downtown St. Louis. Traffic swiftly moves like rivers of light from the sun. A man and a woman enter different stone elevator boxes near a deep pit in the ground; both of them fall through the earth down into the curious landscape below. A forest has been lowered below the city. Not severed from the landscape, rather the forest finds a new home in a sanctuary from the external man-made forest above. Within the forest are silent glass memorials of light - and a large steel and concrete tower that erupts from the forest into the sky.

The man and woman leave the elevator, pass through the exposed Walls of Depression, and enter the Bridges of the Innocent. The man walks north along an elongated steel truss structure that leads from the walls towards the Tower of Light and Warmth. The woman walks southeast on another. The woman has been here before; she dwelled here half a century ago. However, this is the man’s first visit to the Garden of Indolence. 

The man is hypnotized at the view through the portal ahead. The woman trembles at the sublimity below. Every ten paces an octagonal steel truss wraps the bridge, both enclosing and releasing it. Like a chain, these trusses connect the world of the living with the world of the past. Hope is within him. To her, only sadness and remorse. 

The bridges end where the Tower of Light and Warmth begins. Each bridge enters the tower at a different level. The man arrives on level six, the woman on level eight. The man hears each of her footsteps on the dense platform above. Piercing through each concrete platform is a metal staircase; the members shimmer violently in the brightness of the sun. Something is different here. The man begins to ascend the stairs, the woman, shaken by her memory, peers out on to the forest below. The man reaches the eighth floor, he looks at the woman. He smiles. She cries. They both feel the significance of now. They climb to the top of the Tower of Light and Warmth together. They pause at each level to look out. Brushing against each other; their hands almost touch. 

During the daytime the Tower of Light and Warmth is a silent steel structure puncturing the fabric of the site. At night it is a beacon of light. Cantilevering off of the top of the tower are two arms suspended in space. A metal chain is lowering a sphere made of solid, black Onyx. Inscribed on the outside of the sphere are the architectural drawings for what was once the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex. The sphere is a clock; it passes by each of the twenty-four levels of the tower every half hour. It slowly descends from the top of the tower beginning at 3:00am, it reaches the ground twelve hours later. 

It is 3:00pm, the time the demolition of Pruitt-Igoe began. The Tower of Light and Warmth is located where this housing tower once stood. The sphere touches the ground and rests there for 60 seconds. The lights throughout the memorial erupt in an array of forgiveness, illuminating the forest and the tower. In twelve hours it will revert to darkness. It is the cycle of birth and death. The man and the woman together fall to their knees. A bit later, the man and woman leave sight and begin their descent down the stairs. Below them is the Forest of Remembrance. Something has changed; her pain is gone. A slow calm envelopes her like water. A subtle dread strickens him.

The grinding of gravel underfoot
is an awkward intrusion in the dense and quiet air of the forest floor,
and I feel a slight relief when we reach the soft loam. 
She seems intent to read my lips as I mouth inaudibly the words on a nearby memorial: 
“The well holds secrets, truths for those who may breathe water calmly and see in the dark. 
I went into the well, but no one heard my unerring screams.”
The lines linger uneasily in my head as we start down the path. Movement is different here.
Time and distance are hard to gauge among the understory’s constant shifting light and shadow.
To look up is dizzying. This breeze is dim compared to the sound it makes on the bridges above the canopy.
It’s an unsteady safety, and I want to stand in the wind,
but she edges toward the river.
At this distance, it is as if the trees have covered a creek’s mouth–
muffling its chatter with the rocks.
As we approach the valley wall, the river takes full throat,
and I can’t hear anything–the water’s voice nervously occupying every audible frequency
from low churn to tin splash.
I know the exchange here: the trees inching closer to the alluring sustained sip;
the river, hungry for space and rock and soil,
exposes and then tugs at proximate roots.
I stand.
And she sits.
The rock feels cold and clammy on my skin–
it, a lily pad; and I,
amphibian.
I want him to wade in–
to see the shade and sparkle blend him into the grey of rock and sand and trunk.
Though the water moves these boulders,
it parts with ease around my legs. Night is coming.
He has his things and his shoes on.
I can feel him think–
the whisper over the roar.

The shadows grow so long they fall flat
and disperse, and ours take their leave of us.
I float, lightened by this disconnect,
up the hillside into the stand, again.
Although it is warm, I can see my damp breath. It mingles with his heavy exhaust when I say,
“I am open in this close.”
He toes the path now beginning to bear shadow again as the moon eases
toward the tree line along the ridge.
“This place is a scar healed over a self-inflicted wound.
It stopped the bleeding, but ever a dark and beautiful reminder.”
“I know. I need time.”

 

My Involvement

I first became aware of the Pruitt-Igoe story when I was a student in architecture school, and was immediately drawn to it, having lived in suburban St. Louis most of my life, I had not even heard of this social housing project; it had long been demolished since before my birth. What is so unique and quite special about this site is the reversion to the natural that has taken place there. Looking back at the photographs there is something quite beautiful, yet erie, in the stillness that is portrayed. Now there is much more potential to open that up, and bring hope to the land. Thus, upon discovery, the project has always inspired me, not as a piece of architecture, but rather the story of the project and its evolution through intentions and outcomes, and potential new beginnings. 

 

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