Sunday, June 25, 2017

Habitat 67

This past week our text'art group had a very special opportunity to take a guided tour of Habitat 67. Montreal's landmark housing complex is normally closed to the public, but on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, tours will be made available throughout the summer. You can learn more about the tours and register for them by going to the website.

We were lucky to have a mild, sunny day for our visit, and a stiff breeze blew in from the river as we explored the impressive structure, led by our knowledgeable guide. Although it is considered to be in the Brutalist style, many of its features defy that categorization. The architect, Moshe Safdie, grew up in Haifa, Israel, and he drew on this experience when designing Habitat 67. For one thing, all but two of the 148 households have a private terrace garden. As well, communal garden spaces serve to bring together the residents and to create a sense of neighbourliness. The design is driven by a humanist concern for social connection and the individual's connection with nature, and influenced by the architectural model of the Pueblo village and the Mediterranean hillside town.

All of the units offer views in two or more directions, flooding them with light. And the views are astonishing. The complex is set on a quay, bordered on both sides by the St. Lawrence river, so residents and visitors enjoy panoramic vistas of Montreal's harbour, bridges and skyline.

The complex was four years in the making, from initial design to near-completion for the opening of Expo 67. The architect was 25 years old, and the project represented his master's thesis. Safdie actually used Lego bricks to plot out his ideas. There are 15 different floor plans. Households are made up of anywhere from one to four modules. We were able to tour one of the smallest units, offering a very thoughtfully-designed 600 square feet of living space in its one module. Safdie himself owns a four-module unit. Some of the homes made of multiple modules are on two levels, with interior staircases.

The building is 12 storeys high and is serviced by 6 elevators. As one walks through the "streets" and "alleys" formed by the interior, one is constantly surprised by open spaces and intriguing angles.

The concrete modules were cast on site. The theory was that this would be an efficient, economical approach to construction, and it might have worked out that way had Safdie been able to realize his much larger concept and better economies of scale. Originally the homes were all rentals, but since the mid-80's all have been privately owned. The exterior is protected by its status as a heritage site, while the interiors may be reconfigured to the taste of the owner.

Touring Habitat 67 is a Montreal experience I would highly recommend. Tickets for the tours are selling quickly.


the UQAM Centre de design, 1440 Sanguinet, Montreal (Metro Berri) presents the free exhibition Habitat ’67 vers l’avenir / The Shape of Things to Come until August 13, Tuesday to Sunday, from noon to 6 pm.


Jacki Long said...

hanks again for another great visit.

Dianne Robinson said...

Great article! Well written and nice pics!

Pamela Chasen said...

I felt as though I was with you all. Miss you all. Sending love
Pam chasen in Toronto

Heather Dubreuil said...

You would have been dazzled, Pam! I hope you have a chance to visit the site someday. Apparently Safdie is in discussion with various levels of government to have his apartment made accessible to the public permanently. We'll see! Missing you too....