Renowned architect Moshe Safdie donates archives and Habitat 67 condo to McGill University
After more than 50 years designing buildings around the world, renowned Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie donates his professional archives to the University of Montreal where he got his start.
Safdie announced on Tuesday that he is donating more than 100,000 pieces to McGill University, including his thesis that led to the Habitat 67 apartment complex, and his own personal unit in the building.
In an interview, Safdie said that while other institutions had expressed an interest in the archives, he felt it was right to give them to the school that gave him his education and the country where he launched his career.
“Quebec and Canada were so supportive in my early years and gave me so many opportunities, even when I was a young, beginning architect,” he said.
“This is the right place for it to be.”
McGill said Tuesday the collection is made up of more than 100,000 items, including sketchbooks, models, drawings and correspondence related to unbuilt and built projects around the world.
Principal Suzanne Fortier called Safdie’s donation an “extraordinary gift”, adding that her archives will forever be part of the university.
Among the most valuable are the more than 250 sketchbooks and hundreds of templates, which will allow students to track the progress of projects from conception to completion, Safdie said.
It also includes the master copy of McGill’s undergraduate thesis that inspired its design for Habitat 67, which was created for Expo 67 – Montreal’s World’s Fair – and remains one of the most distinctive landmarks from the city.
In the early 1960s, Safdie was an ambitious architecture student in his mid-twenties without a single building project under his belt when he was given the chance to complete his design.
WATCH | Safdie recounts how Habitat 67 launched her career:
A tour of public housing projects in the United States convinced him of the need to reinvent apartment living and incorporate some of the characteristics of living in a house, such as private outdoor space and access to nature.
What was eventually built was a 12-story complex of stacked, staggered concrete cubes connected by walkways and gardens on an artificial peninsula jutting out into the St. Lawrence River.
While some criticized the brutalist concrete architecture and the inflated construction and maintenance costs that left it out of reach for most Montrealers, others praised Safdie’s vision and dream of creating urban communities. livable at a time when many were fleeing to the suburbs.
Safdie said that over the years the building has proven to be a desirable place to live.
“We were there yesterday – there are over 100 families living there very happily,” he said. “A lady came to see me at lunch now to tell me how her kids are enjoying every moment there.”
Over the years, he said, he developed his original concept in countries like China and Singapore.
The donation to McGill also includes the architect’s personal apartment in Habitat 67, which the school says would serve “as a resource for academic research, artist-in-residence programs, exhibitions and symposia.”
Safdie’s design for Habitat 67 was originally meant to be much larger – incorporating schools, public buildings and an entire mixed-use community, which he now realizes was ‘radical’ at the time. .
“But everything has its time, and maybe in the next few years we can also realize some of these ideas,” he said.
After Habitat 67, Safdie designed many other notable projects, including the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; the Museum of Civilization in Quebec; the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum, Jerusalem; Jewel Changi Airport, Singapore; and the United States Institute of Peace, in Washington, DC
As a self-proclaimed architecture enthusiast and fan of Safdie’s work, McGill graduate architecture student Philippe Fournier said he was eager to have access to the plans that led to the creation of all of these works.
“It’s exciting…that I can come in anytime and watch them,” he said.
For Ariane Ducharme, a graduate student in architecture, it was moving to see Safdie pass on her wisdom to generations like hers. And the fact that he chose particular McGill students means a lot to her.
“It’s proof that coming home is always a good answer,” she said, adding that her donation is a gift to Montreal and to Canada as a whole.
Currently, Safdie said he is working on a number of projects, including an airport, a medical school building and an office that incorporates natural elements for a California technology company.
“You look at the typical office building, it’s a really big footprint,” he said. “Two-thirds of people don’t even work near a window or daylight and you’re like, ‘There are better ways to do this.’
At 84, Safdie said he was still determined to reinvent spaces in new ways.
“Whenever I come to a type of building that I’ve never done before, like when I did my first library in Vancouver or my first museum at the National Gallery, there’s an element of rethinking, of coming back to first principles,” he said.
“How could we do this better than the typical standard solution, the expected solution?”