Fifty years ago, Moshe Safdie was a recent architecture graduate, intent on realizing the ideas explored in his thesis project at McGill University: a three-dimensional model for urban housing. Sandy VanGinkel, one of his professors, recruited him to help design the master plan for the World Exposition in Montreal. Safdie agreed to join the effort, with the caveat that he could continue his exploration into housing as a potential entry for the Canadian pavilion. Remarkably, Safdie’s proposal, Habitat ‘67, was built in Montreal for the Expo ‘67, and it brought instant acclaim to the young architect. A half-century later, the impact of that building is still apparent around the globe.
Infused with the utopian ideals of the Israeli kibbutz, Habitat was designed as a midpoint between the suburban neighborhood and the urban apartment building. The prefabricated concrete units provide a measure of privacy and greenery while still using vertical space to minimize the community’s footprint. As a model for the combination of public and private space, Habitat’s ideal of “for everyone a garden” resonated widely and continues to be relevant for cities of increasing densification around the world. Habitat’s influence has only grown as more cities embrace mixed-use, walkable development. While no other Habitats were built, Safdie has echoed the work in his later designs.
Today, Safdie is a renowned architect and visionary urban planner. His incorporation of social activism into architecture has been reflected in his buildings around the world, notably the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore and the Habitat descendant Colombo Residential Development in Sri Lanka. You can watch him discuss his legacy in this PBS profile.
(Photo credit: Timothy Hursley)