Encyclopedia of 20th Century Architecture - Vol. 2

By R. Stephen Sennott | Go to book overview

H

HABITAT 1967, MONTREAL

Designed by Moshe Safdie; completed 1967

Constructed of an assemblage of prefabricated modular units, Habitat '67 was an experimental, single-family housing prototype built in conjunction with the 1967 World Exhibition in Montreal. One of the most publicized and controversial buildings of Expo '67, Habitat immediately attracted the attention of both the local and international public and the architectural profession.

Israeli-born architect Moshe Safdie first developed the concept in his fifth-year graduate thesis, “A Three-Dimensional Modular Building System, ” at McGill University's School of Architecture in 1960-61. The project was intended as a model of inexpensive, high-density housing in urban centers to accommodate escalating postwar populations. To counter urban sprawl and provide an alternative to apartment blocks, Safdie proposed three prototype building systems that utilized cellular, prefabricated components produced by mechanization to reduce materials and labor costs. Inspired by Le Corbusier's sketches for “Immeubles Villas” (1922), in which dwellings were vertically stacked in a checkerboard pattern with gardens in the voids, Safdie's “houses in the sky” combined various terraced permutations to ideally create a complete community environment. The vertical structure was designed to incorporate commercial, cultural, and educational facilities for up to 5,000 residents.

After graduation, Safdie apprenticed with Van Ginkel and Associates in Montreal (1961-62) and then worked with architect Louis Kahn in Philadelphia (1962-63). In 1963, Sandy Van Ginkel, then director of planning for the World Exhibition slated for Canada's 1967 centennial, asked Safdie to return to Montreal to assist on Expo's master plan. Safdie agreed with a condition that he be given the chance to realize his housing project. Named “Habitat '67, ” the visionary concept for universal housing aptly suited the exhibition's theme, “Man and His World.” In 1964, Safdie resigned from the planning of Expo to work exclusively on Habitat for the Canadian Corporation for the 1967 World Exhibition as client. To design the project, he gathered a team of mostly young McGill architecture graduates, with two of the most important contributors coming from Kahn's office: architect Dave Rinehart and structural consultant August Komendant. Peter Barott represented the associated firm of David, Barott, Boulva, Architects.

Funding the construction of Habitat '67 proved difficult until the federal government's Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) agreed to provide $11.5 million for a dramatically scaled-down version of the complex. The estimated $42 million original Phase 1 scheme called for a 22-story complex housing up to 1,200 units, supported on giant inclined A-frames containing stairs and elevators. The as-built project consisted of a structurally revised 12-story building of 158 units, without a planned community school or the commercial and office facilities.

Overlooking the Saint Lawrence River and the Expo islands, Habitat '67 was built on Mackay Pier in Montreal's port area, about a mile from the downtown area. The 354 reinforcedconcrete components for the rectangular apartment “boxes” and primary structural elements were manufactured at the site and then finished on an assembly-line basis. Although elements such as fiberglass bathrooms and assembled kitchens were separately prefabricated as well, other decorative functional and structural elements had to be executed in the traditional manner. Weighing 70 to 90 tons, the completed units were hoisted into place by crane and stacked into three irregular ziggurats. The resulting clustered design generated by the construction process resembled ancient European and Middle Eastern hillside towns.

On the recommendation of Komendant, the concrete modular boxes became load bearing as well as space enclosing and formed an integrated three-dimensional structural grid with horizontal pedestrian corridor units and vertical service cores containing elevator and stair shafts. By assembling the modules in various combinations, 15 dwelling types were created, producing one- to four-bedroom apartments of one to two levels that ranged in size from 600 to 1,700 square feet. The varied and projecting arrangement of the completed complex offered apartments with privacy, vistas of the river and city, ample sunlight, and a garden balcony formed by the roof of the unit below. The interior pedestrian streets held common spaces, including children's play areas on the fifth and ninth floors. Outside the building, pedestrian circulation was kept separate from vehicle access roads and underground parking.

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Encyclopedia of 20th Century Architecture - Vol. 2
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • G 481
  • H 579
  • I 667
  • J 703
  • K 719
  • L 743
  • M 805
  • N 901
  • O 945
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