Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Living room.

When we were in Montreal we paid a return visit to one of the city’s most audacious buildings. Indeed given that the architect was 23 it probably set some kind of world audacity record. Habitat67 was constructed as a pavilion for the Montreal Expo of the same year. Its architect Moshe Safdie was only just out of architecture school and working with Louis Kahn in Philadelphia when he scored the commission.

The complex is astonishing, a twentieth century castle meets geometry. As the identical modules turn and reverse on each other they show how important the spaces between things and around things are to art and architecture. But so unnerving to to see though such a massive structure as it frames the sky and trees beyond. And it is massive. At opening it comprised 354 apartments and although some have now been joined together it has not affected the external appearance. Indeed it's hard to think of Habitat as a single structure so complex are its forms and the connections between them.

Initially it was intended to provide affordable housing but that was one ambition not realised. It is now a very private upscale housing complex with the expansive courtyards and natural stairs and its entry pathways tightly guarded. In 2009 Habitat67 was recognised as a heritage building but from what we could see Montreal's climate is not kind to concrete. There are many signs of stress and partial decay. Still the complex is an imposing achievement and still a powerful model for urban housing.

Just along the road is another structure built for Expo67 the Montreal Biosphere, Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome.  In architecture you would have to say 1967 was a very good year.

You can take a peek inside Habitat67 via this Leonard Cohen music video