Moshe Safdie donates his archive and Habitat 67 unit to McGill University

Moshe Safdie donated his professional archive including never-before-seen materials from more than 300 projects, and his unit in Habitat 67, to alma mater, McGill University, Montreal.

by Sunena V MajuPublished on : Sep 06, 2022

The architectural dossier of Moshe Safdie returns to its cradle. Reminiscing the phrase, ‘comfort of beginnings’, what began at the steps of McGill University in 1955 finds its way back to the same place almost 65 years later. Already home to many of Safdie’s books and unpublished papers, the two-century-old university in Montreal will now be endowed with his professional archive and his unit in Habitat 67. Included in the collection that the Israeli-Canadian architect donated to his alma mater, are never-before-seen materials from more than 300 projects, including his thesis that led to the iconic Habitat 67. As per the university, “Safdie’s collection represents one of the most extensive and thorough individual collections of architectural documentation in Canada.”

Moshe Safdie during the construction of Habitat 67 | McGill University Archive | Moshe Safdie | STIRworld
Moshe Safdie during the construction of Habitat 67 Image: Courtesy of McGill University

The collection consists of over 100,000 pieces including loose sketches, sketchbooks, models, drawings and correspondence related to unbuilt and built projects across the globe. However, the most overwhelming addition to them is Safdie’s personal unit at Habitat 67. The project that shaped the architecture student at McGill into an architect will now return to its roots. Habitat 67, the Canada Pavilion at the 1967 World Exposition, was the beginning for not just the modernist but for a whole different thought in the housing sphere of then. Presented in 1960 under the title ‘A Case for the City living’, the thesis by Safdie questioned the possibilities of including the amenities found in low-density suburban housing development in high-density urban housing. The solution to this by the 24-year-old architect was a three-dimensional urban structure built from modules that can be adapted to different site conditions. Though this concept sounds familiar and normal in the 21st century, it was rather a far-fetched and radical approach at that time. In an earlier conversation with STIR columnist Vladimir Belogolovsky, Safdie had mentioned, “Today I would argue that the concept of Habitat has become the mainstream. So many architects now are doing housing projects in the spirit of Habitat, of turning every apartment into a house with a garden. The same is happening in the universities. The students are exploring these ideas. So, slowly, the ideas of Habitat are being rediscovered.” As the urban housing domain is still exploring alternatives to similar concepts, the donation of Safdie’s archives for reference and his unit in Habitat 67 for case studies opens a new portal for wider research.

  • The sketches of Habitat 67 by Moshe Safdie | McGill University Archive | Moshe Safdie | STIRworld
    The sketches of Habitat 67 by Moshe Safdie Image: Courtesy of McGill University
  • The original document of Safdie’s thesis titled ‘A Case for the City living’ is also part of the professional archive donated to McGill University | McGill University Archive | Moshe Safdie | STIRworld
    The original document of Safdie’s thesis titled ‘A Case for the City living’ is also part of the professional archive donated to McGill University Image: Courtesy of McGill University

In a stacked volume of 354 prefabricated modules, often referred to as ‘boxes’, the concrete architecture of the brutalist building marked itself as a landmark for Montreal. On the 50th year anniversary of Habitat 67, this four-module duplex unit on the 10th floor, which was initially owned by the Commissioner of Expo 67, was restored to its original condition. This unit in the National Heritage Building at Cité du Havre, on the Saint Lawrence River, will now become a resource for scholarly research and will host artist-in-residence programs, exhibitions, and symposia. “Fondation Habitat 67, a non-profit foundation, will collaborate with McGill on the preservation and maintenance of the apartment as part of its mandate to promote the property for public educational activities,” states McGill University.

  • Habitat 67 influenced by Safdie’s thesis was realised for the 1967 World Exposition as the Canadian Pavilion | McGill University Archive | Moshe Safdie | STIRworld
    Habitat 67 influenced by Safdie’s thesis was realised for the 1967 World Exposition as the Canadian Pavilion Image: Courtesy of McGill University
  • The thesis explored the methods of introducing the amenities found in low-density suburban housing development in high-density urban housing | McGill University Archive | Moshe Safdie | STIRworld
    The thesis explored the methods of introducing the amenities found in low-density suburban housing development in high-density urban housing Image: Bohemian Baltimore and Brian Pirie, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Though Safdie’s pledge of the unit startled the world and led to curious introspection into the reasons behind it, this initiative by the architect would provide architectural education with new possibilities for understanding his works. While architectural education has drastically changed over the years, Safdie’s archives would help the new generation to witness the initial thoughts, processes and learnings of the modern and master architects. While being an important presence in modern architecture, Safdie and his approaches has evolved with years, from etching a new paradigm of housing to design the world’s highest open-air deck at Raffles City Chongqing. Sharing about his donation to McGill, Safdie noted, “I have always valued the great education I received at McGill that has guided me through my professional life. Moreover, Canada has embraced and supported me, making possible the realisation of several seminal projects. It is therefore fitting that McGill, Quebec, and Canada will be the home of my life’s work.”

  • Originally built as a pavilion for Expo 67, the Habitat was soon transformed into an urban housing complex at Cité du Havre, on the Saint Lawrence River, Montreal | McGill University Archive | Moshe Safdie | STIRworld
    Originally built as a pavilion for Expo 67, the Habitat was soon transformed into an urban housing complex at Cité du Havre, on the Saint Lawrence River, Montreal Image: Matias Garabedian, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
  • Though built in 1967, years later, Habitat 67 is still considered an architectural landmark and a recognized building in Montreal | McGill University Archive | Moshe Safdie | STIRworld
    Though built in 1967, years later, Habitat 67 is still considered an architectural landmark and a recognised building in Montreal Image: Matias Garabedian, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The new collection will add to the Moshe Safdie Archive of the university initiated in 1992 by John Bland, thereby bestowing the university with a treasured timeless chronicle of Safdie’s architectural life. While talking about the donation, McGill’s Trenholme Dean of Libraries, C. Colleen Cook shared, “From virtual public lectures to interactive exhibits, Safdie’s holdings, including his apartment at Habitat 67, will provide the McGill community and scholars over the world with an abundance of opportunity for exploration. The original materials in the collection tell the story of Moshe Safdie’s professional practice and student works. We especially value the stories that reside in our collections, and we look forward to discovering and sharing Safdie’s story with future generations.”

What do you think?

About Author

Recommended

LOAD MORE
see more articles
3872,3665,3623,3832,3686

Keep it stirring

get regular updates SIGN UP

This site uses cookies to offer you an improved and personalised experience. If you continue to browse, we will assume your consent for the same.
LEARN MORE AGREE