Habitat 67

Home is a concrete box

habitat 67 moshe safdie montreal expo 67 mid century modern brutalism
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Above: Habitat 67 located in Montreal, Quebec and designed by Moshe Safdieand built for the 1967 World’s Fair.

Sitting on a narrow peninsula that juts into the Saint Lawrence River is a rather peculiar structure that is no doubt one of the most photographed buildings in the city of Montreal. Impossible to miss Habitat 67, nearly 50 years after it was built, has no architectural peer and remains today one of the most ambitious examples of Brutalist architecture.

habitat 67 moshe safdie montreal expo 67 mid century modern brutalism

Architect Moshe Safdie with the model for Habitat 67. Photo: Montreal Archives

The construction of Habitat 67. Click on image for full view.

Designed by internationally renowned architect Moshe Safdie Habitat 67 had an unlikely start. At 26 years of age Safdie created the original design for Habitat as a more livable solution for high-density urban housing – where “everyone’s rooftop was someone’s garden” – while still a graduate student of architecture at McGill University. In a serendipitous coincidence Montreal was hosting the 1967 World’s Fair and through a series of events it was decided by the fair organizers that Safdie’s ‘Habitat’ would be built as a pavilion at Expo 67, albeit a greatly reduced version. Safdie had originally designed an entire self-contained neighborhood with schools, parks, and shopping centers as well as 1000 housing units. What was built, however, was a 12 story structure of interlocking concrete blocks, each measuring 17’6″ by 38’6″ by 10′, creating a total of 158 housing units ranging in size from 600 to 1,700 square feet. Completely new and unlike anything previously built it is not surprising that Habitat 67 was not fully completed when the fair opened in April of 1967 (and ran twice its budget to a staggering for the time 22 million dollars) but the organizers decided to make the remaining construction of Habitat a part of the exhibition and 14 families moved in and lived in the complex during the fair’s six month run. Attendees enjoyed the promise of Habitat and it was one of the most frequented pavilions of the fair.

Habitat 67 during the World's Fair - Expo 67. Click on image for full view.

Conceived as a low cost, high-density housing solution and much enjoyed by fair goers the concept of Habitat 67 never found purchase with the public. After Expo 67 Safdie’s idea was dismissed and even derided as folly. During the following years most of the Expo 67 buildings were either torn down or repurposed and Habitat 67 fell into a state of low rent decay and even faced an uncertain future by the 1980’s. However the units were put up for sale as condos, with some buyers purchasing two or three units and knocking through to create larger homes (some as large as 4000 square feet), and with this added condo fee revenue the building was saved and received much needed regular maintenance.

Habitat 67 as it is today. Click on image for full view.

Today, with condos selling for a million dollars or more, Habitat 67 is not a low cost urban housing solution. But one cannot walk by Habitat 67 without being in awe of it. It remains an ambitious, forward thinking idea when the future seemed to hold promise and good design could offer, if not the solution, then at least some hope. In 2009 Habitat 67 was designated a Canadian Heritage Site thus ensuring its future.

A couple of recently renovated units in Habitat 67. Click on image for full view.

habitat 67 moshe safdie montreal expo 67 mid century modern brutalism

The view of Montreal from Habitat 67.


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