Habitat was one of the most intriguing buildings in the world when it opened as the housing exhibit of Expo 67 in Montreal. Seven million visited it; heads of state lived in it; models flew half way around the world to pose in front of it; children played hide-and-seek all over it; and critics heralded it as “the breakthrough of twentieth century architecture.”
As intriguing as the bilding is the story of how it came to exist. Here, in Beyond Habitat, its young architect Moshe Safdie describes – with a frankness that permits a rare view behind the scenes of modern architecture and mass housing – how his ideas developed and how he fought them into realization. It is a personal statement – almost a private diary and photo album, often containing observations “of a kind one confides only to a friend.”
Safdie tells his story now because he believes that what lies beyond Habitat, what Habitat presaged, is even more significant then Habitat itself. In each of his projects since, he has tried to advance the work Habitat began: in Habitat Puerto Rico (now under construction); in Habitat Israel, the 1,500 dwelling system covering a mountainside outside Jerusalem; in the design for a union building commissioned by students of the San Francisco State College which, when rejected by state officials, became a symbol influencing the campus uprising; in a spectacular suspension building system for the New York waterfront.
Safdie's work points to a new kind of environment:... factory built cities where modern technology, far from regimenting, is used to liberate man to a wider choice of environment than he has ever known... three dimensional cities reaching upwards with streets in the sky, gardens on rooftops, dwellings open on three sides to air and space and sun... creative cities where the cultural riches of a high density environment combine with the quiet and privacy of low density to give men the best of both worlds... and, most important of all, cities that would express a contemporary vernacular, be so harmony with man's spirit that he would no longer need arbitrary design, inappropriate furnishings and irrelevant art to help him forget the ugliness around him.
To achieve such an environment, Safdie believes we must change most of our present attitudes toward government, housing, industry, design and art. Governments must set themselves new action for cities, laws, taxes; they must adopt new environmental codes. Industry must undertake the kind of research in building materials it did for automobiles and airplanes. Contractors must reorganize their methods of working. Unions must give up present division of trades. Building codes and by-laws must be updated.
In all of this Habitatit Montreal was the beginning. The struggle to get Habitat built is indicative of the kind of the stuggleo build the new city, The fact that Hahitat di get built is casue for hope,