Today marks 50 years since Moshe Safdie introduced the world to his pioneering design of Habitat 67 in Montreal. The first project from the Israeli-Canadian-American architect, this innovative affordable housing structure reimagined the way massive urban apartment complexes could be scaled down into one unique, communal context.
Habitat 67; photo by Jerry Spearman courtesy Resnicow and Associates
Safdie founded his firm, Safdie Architects, in 1964 to realize Habitat 67. Commissioned by the Canadian government, he was instructed to build it as a living exhibition for the 1967 World’s Exposition. The project was originally conceived during his master’s thesis, “A Three-Dimensional Modular Building System,” at McGill University.
After touring North American cities, Safdie envisioned the project as an alternative to suburban housing, which he thought inefficiently used its land and resources, as well as urban high-rise housing, which lacked sufficient privacy, light and greenery.
Habitat 67 and Downtown Montreal; photo by Timothy Hursley courtesy Resnicow and Associates
His unconventional solution for creating well-designed, affordable housing was brought to life using industrialized materials and a modular fabrication process. Habitat 67, which contains 158 units, was designed in a system of 354 stacked, prefabricated concrete boxes that were lifted into place by cranes. In total, there are 15 different dwelling types throughout the massive structure, each with its own roof garden. The apartments are connected by outdoor pedestrian streets and bridges.
Construction of Habitat 67; photo by Jerry Spearman courtesy Resnicow and Associates
Today, Habitat 67 stands as a designated National Heritage Building and living landmark. Safdie’s unprecedented scheme humanized mega-scale housing structures and inspired a new way to shape the public realm.
While Safdie himself was a fresh graduate when Habitat 67 was built, he continues to iterate his current projects upon the same design thinking today, at the age of 78. Both Golden Dream Bay in Qinhuangdao, China, and Sky Habitat in Bishan, Singapore, reference the radical, high-density, urban high-rise housing vision that Safdie drew up early on in his career.
The projects feature a stepped design with a focus on creating openness and porosity throughout the complex as well as maximizing access to nature, daylight and community interaction.
Safdie’s revolutionary work is being recognized in two major ways this year. Today, Canada Post released a commemorative stamp of Habitat 67, the first in a set of 10 that will celebrate the country’s 150th anniversary. Each stamp will feature a notable moment in Canadian history since its centennial.
In addition, a new exhibition detailing Safdie’s global career and the legacy of his seminal project will begin this summer. “Habitat 67 vers l’avenir / The Shape of Things to Come” will be on view from June 1 to August 13 at the Université du Québec á Montréal (UQAM) Centre de Design.