In 1955, the city of St. Louis finished construction on the Pruitt-Igoe housing estate, designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki (who would later build New York City's Twin Towers). A raw-concrete sprawl of 33 tower blocks, it was meant to halt the spread of slums by building up, and to give residents parks, playgrounds, convenient shopping and cleaner air.

By 1972, Pruitt-Igoe was demolished. Occupancy was never full, the green areas never materialized, and the maze of stairwells and elevators was intimidating and anonymous. Tenants described "no man's lands ... places where it was impossible to tell resident from intruder," ridden with graffiti, grime and crime. Yamasaki could only shake his head: "I never thought people were that destructive."

Perhaps he lacked some basic understanding of human nature. The author J.G. Ballard, who grew up in a wartime internment camp outside Shanghai, had no such illusions. Ballard looked at the imposing, New Brutalist housing estates around him — particularly Balfron Tower in East London, designed by Erno Goldfinger, who was loathed enough by Londoners to have a Bond villain named after him — and penned his dystopian near-future novel "High-Rise."