Title: Expo 67, Habitat, Moshe Safdie
Client: Les Editions Toundra-Tundra Books (Publisher)
Size: 96mm x 130mm
Habitat, Moshe Safdie
Interviewed by John Gray
“To build economically is a moral obligation of our time.”
“Safdie’s instant beehive at the entrance to Montreal’s Expo 67 answers a need so burning that it simply melts all the ifs and buts… Safdie has dared a new answer to our urban housing problems… Habitat may well constitute the first real victory of the modern industrial revolution.”
Wolf von Eckhardt
Washington Post, April 29, 1967
“Both the puzzlement and the promise of the future is in this housing.”
Ada Louise Huxtable
The New York Times, April 30, 1967
“U.S. Calls Habitat Designer to Washington to help Solve ‘Crisis in the Cities’.”
Headline, the Montreal Star, May 1967
“Habitat… is, before it is anything else, a decent place to live.”
The New York Times, June 4, 1967
“One of the great experiments… it is the one thing at Expo that will never be forgotten.”
Jean Labatut of the Princeton University School of Architecture, quoted in The Montreal Star, June 14, 1967
Habitat 67 is only six weeks old as we write this, but already – as the above quotes show – it is being heralded as the most revolutionary concept in the 20th century architecture.
That Habitat should exist at all is the kind of miracle that restores man’s faith in himself and his institutions. Since the first plans to build it as part of Expo’s Man in the Community project were announced back in 1964, Montrealers have followed its tenuous struggle in their news papers.
Betting men would not have given much odds on it that first year: the Government of Canada, not renowned for it speculative nature, was going to pay $40,000,000 to build a housing project designed by a 24-year-old architect who had never built anything in his life! Who was he anyway? Born in Haifa, Israel in 1938, he had immigrated to Canada at the age of 15. Qualifications? A degree in architecture from McGill University received only three years before! The expected criticism and ridicule were not long in coming, but finally, on February 17, 1965, the federal government approved its construction – cut to less than one-sixth its original size, on a budget cut to one-quarter: $11,500,000.
At last on May 11, 1966, Habitat seemed really on its way as The Montreal Star reported: “Hard, wind-driven snow lashed spectators as Mrs. Moshe Safdie, wife of Habitat’s broke a bottle of champagne against one of the first groups of precast concrete units to be put in place”, and, less than a year later, on April 27, 1967, the day Expo opened, there it stood with people actually living in it – finished, fascinating and oddly familiar, like a shape subconsciously remembered from childhood.
Because the reduced size, production costs soared and the present Habitat ended up costing $23,000,000. In view of its success, perhaps the Canadian Government doesn’t mind too much. But S Safdie minds. His whole aim in Habitat was to “build economically”, to apply modern manufacturing methods to housing, to cut costs and to provide a way of living in our cities that would protect the dignity of man and respect his longing for privacy, a view, a garden.
Here John Gray, a staff writer for The Montreal Star, asks Safdie the kind of questions you might ask him if you could sit in his living room at Habitat where he lived with his wife and two children. The answers, for all their simplicity and quietness, tell the story of one of the greatest adventures in architecture in our century.