Moshe Safdie: ar­chi­tect of the fu­ture

The Canadian Jewish News (Toronto) - - News - — ELIAS LEVY

An out­stand­ing fig­ure in the world of ar­chi­tec­ture and ur­ban plan­ning, Moshe Safdie was a pi­o­neer of rev­o­lu­tion­ary con­cep­tual ap­proaches and avant-garde con­struc­tion tech­niques that have con­trib­uted greatly to an orig­i­nal re­sponse to the ev­er­last­ing prob­lems of ur­ban hous­ing.

He was born in Haifa in 1938 and im­mi­grated to Canada with his fam­ily when he was 15. In 1960, when he was do­ing grad­u­ate stud­ies in the fac­ulty of ar­chi­tec­ture at Mcgill Uni­ver­sity in Mon­treal, Safdie, then 22, de­vel­oped an in­ter­est in dif­fer­ent hous­ing sys­tems.

Thanks to an aca­demic schol­ar­ship, he left to travel across the United States, to study the coun­try’s large ur­ban cen­tres. He re­turned to Canada firmly con­vinced that sub­urbs are not the way to solve the prob­lems of ur­ban liv­ing.

Af­ter re­ceiv­ing his de­gree, Safdie be­gan his pro­fes­sional ca­reer at the of­fice of Van Ginkel ar­chi­tects in Mon­treal, and then worked for ar­chi­tect Louis Kahn in Philadel­phia.

In 1963, he be­gan to de­velop the plans for the am­bi­tious com­plex known as Habi­tat 67, which was to be built on the site where Expo 67 was to be held. An in­no­va­tive ar­chi­tec­tural project, Habi­tat 67 aroused a great deal of in­ter­est in­ter­na­tion­ally. The fu­tur­is­tic res­i­den­tial com­plex made of pre­fab­ri­cated con­crete blocks is com­posed of three build­ings, in sec­tions ar­ranged in zigzag form. The spe­cial fea­ture of Habi­tat 67 was its hy­brid units that com­bined the fea­tures of an apart­ment and a sin­gle-fam­ily home on huge, tiered ter­races formed of un­even pyra­mids.

The con­struc­tion of Habi­tat 67 faced nu­mer­ous prob­lems: an ob­struc­tive bu­reau­cracy, dra­co­nian gov­ern­ment bud­get cuts, a race against the clock to com­plete the am­bi­tious project on time and ve­he­ment crit­i­cism from those op­posed to the huge ar­chi­tec­tural project.

But Habi­tat 67 en­abled Safdie to gain a world­wide rep­u­ta­tion. The bril­liant ar­chi­tect be­came the prin­ci­pal manager for sev­eral ma­jor projects around the world. Among Safdie’s prom­i­nent cre­ations were: Habi­tat Puerto Rico, a mo­du­lar res­i­den­tial build­ing in San Juan; the rab­binic col­lege Po­rat Yosef Yeshiva in Jerusalem, which houses teach­ing fa­cil­i­ties, stu­dent res­i­dences, a li­brary and a syn­a­gogue; the plans for the new city of Cold­spring New Town, com­mis­sioned by the city of Bal­ti­more, Md.; the Western Wall Plaza in the Old City of Jerusalem; the Yitzhak Rabin Cen­tre in Tel Aviv; the chil­dren’s memo­rial at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem; the ar­chi­tec­tural plans for the city of Modi’in in Is­rael; the Van­cou­ver Public Li­brary; the Salt Lake City Public Li­brary; the Vi­rasat-e-khalsa mu­seum of Sikhism in In­dia; the Na­tional Gallery of Canada in Ot­tawa; the Mu­seum of Civ­i­liza­tion in Quebec City; the Marina Bay Sands in Sin­ga­pore; and the Pe­abody Es­sex Mu­seum in Salem, Mass.

Safdie taught at Mcgill, Yale Uni­ver­sity and Ben-gu­rion Uni­ver­sity of the Negev in Is­rael. He was also di­rec­tor of the ur­ban de­sign pro­gram at the Grad­u­ate School of De­sign at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity.

He is the au­thor of many ar­ti­cles and sev­eral books on ar­chi­tec­ture that have be­come re­quired ref­er­ences in aca­demic cir­cles, in­clud­ing Be­yond Habi­tat, Form and Pur­pose, Jerusalem: the Fu­ture and the Past and The City Af­ter the Au­to­mo­bile.

Moshe Safdie re­ceived sev­eral prizes and pres­ti­gious hon­orary dis­tinc­tions, in­clud­ing the Or­der of Canada, the Gold Medal of the Gover­nor Gen­eral of Canada and the Royal Ar­chi­tec­tural In­sti­tute of Canada’s gold medal.

In 1990, Mcgill es­tab­lished the Moshe Safdie Archive, a col­lec­tion of plans, sketches and note­books for more than 125 projects he com­pleted. The archives are open to re­searchers, stu­dents and the gen­eral public.

Trans­lated from French by Carolan Halpern.

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