Moshe Safdie conceptualized Habitat 67 for his master-level academic thesis at McGill University. A former thesis advisor advised Safdie to develop Habitat's master plan for the world fair of Expo 67 at Montreal. Thus, Safdie modified his planning and contemplated his thesis for pavilion design. These plans incorporate colossal detailing and the government in Ottawa praised and sanctioned them. Thus, Safdie won the opportunity to work as a principal architect, despite his youth and professional novelty.

Habitat 67 – Rethinking modularity with Safdie Architects.

Moshe Safdie conceptualized Habitat 67 for his master-level academic thesis at McGill University. A former thesis advisor advised Safdie to develop Habitat’s master plan for the world fair of Expo 67 at Montreal. Thus, Safdie modified his planning and contemplated his thesis for pavilion design. These plans incorporate colossal detailing and the government in Ottawa praised and sanctioned them. Thus, Safdie won the opportunity to work as a principal architect, despite his youth and professional novelty.

The Habitat 67
The legacy of Habitat 67, Canada (© Wikimedia)

Fact-File:

  • Architects: Safdie Architects.
  • Location: Habitat 67 is located in Montreal, Quebec.
  • Year: 1967, Built.
  • Size: 238,000 sq.ft, 22,160 sq.m
  • Clients: Canadian Corporation for the 1967 world exhibition.
  • Awards: Habitat 67 won the National heritage building designation, Quebec minister of culture, 2009. Prix duxxe Siecle, The best building of the 20th Century, Royal architectural institute of Canada, 2007, Massey medal, Royal architectural institute of Canada, 1968.

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Concept sketch of the Habitat 67
Safdie’s sketch as he perceived the habitat (©Safdie architects)

As land-mark demonstrations, Habitat explores the perception of urban housing with prefabricated construction. Thus, this complex, financed by the federal government, is now under the control of limited partnership tenants.

The Concept of the Habitat 67:

Habitat 67 plays with 365 identical, prefabricated concrete masses, exploring their permutations and combinations to form 12-storied structures. These units, joined by 1-8 concrete blocks, are differently sized and configured but house 146 families. The first-hand Habitat had 158 residences, but, the conjoining of homes reduced its total number. Each unit gets the advantage of at least one private green space that ranges from 20 to 90 sq.m in size.

Architectural model of the Habitat 67
Conceptual model – making, Moshe Safdie (© Bettman / Corbis)

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Aspects of design:

  1. Purpose: Though habitat aims to satisfy the end-user and re-imagines its function, it forms a dense-village-like living in its spatial configuration.
  2. Tectonics: Habitat pledges to evolve its form, thus involving the roots and topography of the place it stands on.
  3. Context: Habitat vows to experience the structure in synchronization with not only its context but as an independent entity.
Aspects of Design (© Google Images)

Habitat 67 envisions gardens as contemporary hanging green spaces for its stepped modules. Hence, the belief that the site guides the plan is what pushes the Lego-like geometry to affirm spaces.

Construction of the Habitat 67
Illustration of the Lego-like geometries of the habitat (© Uncube Magazine)

Habitat 67 illustrates the use of a single basic shape to organize spaces deliberately that privatizes spaces uniquely. It thus boosts circulation and creates an atmosphere apt for public spaces. Habitat 67 features connections that develop variety to the apartment culture by 20 X 40 X 10 feet rectilinear volumes. During its construction phase, these volumes were a quantum jump to prefabricated modules, and hence, were mass-produced. They challenged the architect to work with similar masses without negotiating on circulation and private spaces in an urban fabric.

The development of the Habitat:

Habitat 67 flushes the livings of suburban homes to modernity while experimenting with natural designs for modifying needs. Therefore, the building welcomes fresh air, maintains gardens, respects privacy, and keeps the surroundings alive. Multi-leveled settings to strengthen economics provide the backdrop of a modern apartment building against ethnic modules. The structure makes on-the-ball arrangements for child play throughout its area and highlights both shaded and semi-enclosed spaces.

The continuous streets, covered and un-covered (© Great Buildings)

Three vertical cores direct the vertical circulation throughout the complex. The thrusts pause at every fourth level and handle interaction as pedestrian streets. These streets help access the dwellings, owing to their continuity and movement pattern throughout the structure. Moreover, covered and semi-covered car parking for tenants is the crux of Habitat’s amenity area brief. It thus, reserves a large area of parking as an added visitor space, specially crafted on-purpose.

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The compositions and combinations of the stepped modules ensure that every building welcomes its share of relaxations. Equal access to not only the sun but also air circulation alongside a private terrace garden garners the user in solitude. With the help of garden units, Habitat manages to secure enticing amenities within the purview of modernism. These free-standing homes are a reaction against brutalism, a move towards high-rise villages. Sadie himself describes Habitat 67 as an attempt to upscale from the micro to the mega.

The construction phase of the Habitat 67 (© Flickr)

The construction phase of the Habitat 67:

The structure uses three-dimensional modular units as its prime material. These units, precast in steel molds, make use of 5000psi concrete and are steam-cured. After the casting process, all materials transported to the site were finished and polished in the finishing area. Additionally, these components, fixtures, and finishes used the assembly line method for their installation to structure the Habitat. Insulation and a variety of wall finishes line the internal surfaces of these units. A larger share of the components required for the Habitat, like the bath and the kitchen, were prefabricated. Even before the roof connections, these units, installed as single completed boxes, gave Habitat its form.

The modular units of the Habitat align themselves in such a manner that consecutive walls, floors, and ceilings of houses remain diverse. This separation ensures effective absorption of high decibels of sound and facilitates insulation by vibration and dynamic loads.

The restored interiors of the Habitat 67 with furnishings (© Dezeen)

The material selection of the Habitat:

Concrete was preferred as the chief material for Habitat for its varied advantages, suited to the purpose. With concrete, it was possible to seal places properly, equip the exterior, and make the structure fire-proof. In addition to concrete, the single-unit bathrooms have multi-material palettes that include gel-coated fiber glasses. Furthermore, kitchens by Frigidaire and window frames of Geon Plastic help achieve contrast with the concrete boxes. A factory constructed on-site fabricated the box modules. This factory covered an area of 600 sq. ft roughly in size. The fabricated concrete modules were lifted and stacked by cranes and post-tensioned to achieve the stepped form.

The concrete modules of the Habitat 67 (© Jade Doskow)

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The restoration phase of Habitat 67:

Habitat 67 acclaimed its 50th anniversary in November 2018. On this day, Safdie architects undertook an all-inclusive restoration cycle to counter all the issues. This restoration progressed on the publicly accessible unit of Habitat 67, on the 10th floor of the structure. All the repairs to the duplex complex required a time-soaring period of two years. Additionally, they incorporated extensive interior upgrades to tackle the issues of water damage sustained from the building’s completion. The external concrete wall stripped to add insulation provided the perfect pitch for water-proofing. This restoration technically upgraded Habitat to suit the energy conservation standards of the 21st Century.

The original timber parquet floor restored with the slot detailing improved the air quality and internal air circulation. Besides the architects, this unit will remain open for the public, and students who want to research modularity. Though most of the Habitat problems are solved, the architects will continue the restoration cycle throughout.

The restored modules of the Habitat 67 (© Dezeen)

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