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Habitat 67: A revolutionary experiment in modular architecture and one of the most important buildings in the 1960s

David Goran

This 1967 experiment in modular architecture was designed to be a new model for urban living. Designed by the Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie for the 1967 World’s Fair (Expo ’67), held from April to October, Habitat 67, or simply Habitat, was originally intended as an experimental solution for high-quality housing in dense urban environments. The housing complex is located at Cité du Havre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Habitat 67, as seen from street level. Source

Habitat 67, as seen from street level. Source

 

It was built as a pavilion for Expo 67, the 1967 World's Fair. Source

It was built as a pavilion for Expo 67, the 1967 World’s Fair. Source

The project originated as Safdie’s thesis at McGill University in 1961 (then only 25 years old), titled “A Case for City Living” and described as “A Three-Dimensional Modular Building System”. Expo ’67 has been widely regarded as the most successful World’s Fair of the 20th century, with over 50 million visitors and 62 nations participating.

The design was created by architect Moshe Safdie based on his master's thesis at McGill University. Source

The design was created by architect Moshe Safdie based on his master’s thesis at McGill University. Source

 

Habitat 67, East facade. Source

East facade. Source

The development was designed to integrate the benefits of suburban homes — namely gardens, fresh air, privacy, and multi-leveled environments — with the economics and density of a modern urban apartment building. Habitat 67 comprises 354 identical, prefabricated concrete forms (referred to as “boxes”) arranged in various combinations, reaching up to 12 stories in height. Together these units create 146 apartments of varying sizes and configurations, each formed from one to eight linked concrete units. Each unit is connected to at least one private terrace, which can range from approximately 20 to 90 square meters (225 to 1,000 sq ft) in size. The total area of the property comprises 22,160 sq. m. (238,500 sq ft).

`This complex originally contained 158 apartments, but several apartments have since been joined to create larger units, reducing the total number to 146. Source

The complex originally contained 158 apartments, but several apartments have since been joined to create larger units, reducing the total number to 146. Source

 

The cube is the base, the mean and the finality of Habitat 67. Source

The cube is the base, the mean and the finality of Habitat 67. Source

 

In its material sense, the cube is a symbol of stability. Source

In its material sense, the cube is a symbol of stability. Source

 

Each of the pre-fabricated boxes were constructed at a factory that was opened specifically to build the models. Source

Each of the pre-fabricated boxes were constructed at a factory that was opened specifically to build the models. Source

By stacking concrete “boxes” in variant geometrical configurations, Safdie was able to break the traditional form of orthogonal high rises, locating each box a step back from its immediate neighbor. Each apartment is reached through a series of pedestrian streets and bridges, along with three vertical cores of elevators for the top floors.

It was believed to illustrate the new lifestyle people would live in increasingly crowded cities around the world. Source

It was believed to illustrate the new lifestyle people would live in increasingly crowded cities around the world. Source1 Source2

 

Habitat 67, view from inner court. Source

View from inner court. Source

 

Habitat 67 gained world-wide acclaim as “a fantastic experiment“ and “architectural wonder“. Source

Habitat 67 gained world-wide acclaim as “a fantastic experiment“ and “architectural wonder“. Source

Not only revolutionary in its time, Habitat 67 has continued to influence architecture throughout the decades. In the years following the world exposition, numerous Habitats were constructed around the world: in New York (1967), Puerto Rico (1968), Israel (1969), Rochester (1971) and Tehran (1976). On March 27, 2009, Habitat ’67 was given historic monument status by the Quebec Minister of Culture and the exterior of the building is now a designated heritage site.