Habitat 67 turns 50

I visited Montréal for the first time late in the winter this year, and absolutely had to make a pilgrimage to Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67, a brutalist, modular series of residential concrete cubes that—whether you love it or hate it—dazzles the eye and mind with its geometric gymnastics:

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Though spring was close at hand, the city had been hit by a blizzard a couple of days before, and Montréal’s snow removal army was just mobilizing. The site was covered with snow and ice, but the sun was out, so it was really only miserable if you spent too much time in the shade. I’ve since seen pictures of H67 in summer, and it definitely looks more human and welcoming with sprouting greenery and flowing fountains. (Still, I was glad I went in the winter.)

It didn’t even cross my mind that Expo 67 was 50 years ago (and also Canada’s centennial). I was more interested in checking out the condition of the pre-cast concrete, which—though I assume it has had regular maintenance—appears to be in surprisingly good shape.

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There’s not much point going into the details of how the project came about or what it means; it’s all been said. What’s more, given the 50th anniversary, there’s a plethora of articles being floated around right now that all will do the job quite nicely:

First off, there’s a great transcript of Safdie’s recent keynote address at the Centre de design de l’Université du Québec à Montréal (a place which, if you live in or near Montréal, also features a great-looking free exhibit on H67, on until August 13), in which the architect relates not only his personal story of Habitat 67, but also his insights on the future of urban housing and driverless cars.

There’s a good piece here that goes into some of the more wonkish technical details behind the design and construction, and a thorough one from The Guardian that touches on some of the more negative aspects of the project, including leaky concrete (I knew it!), and ventilation and mold issues. (If you want more Two Minutes Hate time, here’s one from the Walrus from back in 2008.)

[The Guardian piece also mentions to links to/influence of the Japanese Metabolism movement, leading to the incredible Dutch website Failed Architecture. Check out their stories on the H67-related Nakagin Capsule Tower if crumbling utopian dreams are your bag.]

Still, Habitat 67 seems to follows me around. Just a couple of weeks ago, back in Lotusland, this tweet made me very happy:

And as a bonus, for all you closet philatelists, this year Canada Post issued a Habitat 67 stamp:

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Image courtesy Canada Post

Finally, I can’t believe I didn’t know there was a Leonard Cohen video shot at Habitat 67:

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