A Great Game of LEGOs

Moshe Safdie: The Architect Behind Habitat 67

By Carmen Desmeules (Translated by Emilie Gosselin)

Photo credit – Library and Archives Canada

Moshe Safdie was born on July 14, 1938 in Haïfa (mandate Palestine). The architect and urban planner studied at McGill University in Montreal and taught at Harvard University in the United States. His family settled in Montreal when he was 15 years old.

Safdie was 25 years old when he first imagined Habitat 67. “The federal and municipal authorities put their trust in a young architect who had never build a thing in his life,” he acknowledges. Habitat 67 was officially designated a historical Quebec monument in 2009.

Photo credit – Library and Archives Canada

Located in the Cité du Havre, Habitat 67 is “an assembly of cubes, which immediately evokes LEGO bricks.” (La Presse, 28 mars 2009) The masterpiece falls within the Brutalist architecture movement, wherein concrete is the main building material.

Habitat 67 is comprised of 148 one or two-story apartments grouped into three pyramids, for a total of 354 prefabricated cubes.  They are disposed in such a way that offers each resident a terrace arranged on the roof of the unit constructed below, a magnificent view of the Saint-Lawrence river and the habour, all this only five minutes from Downtown Montreal.

Yves Jasmin, Director of Information, Advertising and Public Relations at Expo 67, recalls some of the issues around Habitat 67 back in 1967:

“Here’s an example of the problems we faced. One day, near the end of the year, it was decided that Habitat 67 wouldn’t be completed in its entirety (for Expo 67). There would only be a small part of it – a demonstration.”

“Mayor” of Expo, Philippe de Gaspé Beaubien, resided temporarily at Habitat 67 during the Universal Exhibition. According to Yves Jasmin, “Near the end, he was sleeping at Habitat, and on Sundays, he would receive his family. But even then, he was still called upon to make decisions: close this, do that, etc.”

Photo credit – Library and Archives Canada

Here are some of the artworks by Moshe Safdie that you can see in Canada:

    • National Gallery Of Canada – Ottawa – 1988
    • Vancouver Public Library – May 1995
    • Montreal Museum Of Fine Arts, the second building – 1991
    • Museum Of Civilisation, Quebec City – 1984

He was designated a Companion of the Order of Canada in 2004.

Sources : La Presse, Interview with Yves Jasmin (2016), Wikipédia.

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