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Moshe Safdie: Israeli roots

Moshe Safdie achieved worldwide fame when his sensational Habitat pavilion was the showcase of Expo 67. The visionary architect went on to design some of the country's best-known buildings, including the National Gallery of Canada, Vancouver's Library Square and the massive rebuild of Toronto's Pearson Airport. Millions of Canadians experience the power of his architecture daily. CBC looks at Safdie's career.

Born in the hillside city of Haifa, Palestine, Moshe Safdie spent his childhood summers on kibbutzim, or communal farms, where he lived, worked and played with 50 other children. The social and political mood of the time had a profound impact on him. It was here that he developed the strong community values and humanist ideals that inform his beliefs and his architecture. CBC accompanies Safdie on a tour of his homeland as he discusses architecture, the environment and his roots. 
• Moshe Safdie was born in Haifa, Palestine (now Israel) in 1938 and immigrated to Canada at 15. His family settled in Montreal, where Safdie enrolled in architecture at McGill University in 1955.
• Safdie excelled academically, winning a Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation scholarship that allowed him to tour North America and examine housing and architecture in the summer of 1959.

• On that trip Safdie visited the suburbs and downtowns of many cities at the height of the suburban explosion. He identified what he calls "the paradox of contemporary urbanism: the dream of a home and garden that are distant from the ills of the city alongside a desire for the vitality of downtown."
• What he saw inspired him to design a building type that would bring the advantages of suburban living to a high-density urban setting.

• After the trip, Safdie abandoned his earlier plan to design the Israeli Knesset (parliament) for his thesis and began to focus on urban housing.
• He constructed models out of Lego blocks, which eventually led to his thesis design project, "A Three-Dimensional Modular Building System," and accompanying report, "A Case for City Living: An Investigation into the Urban Dwelling for Families."

• In 1961 Safdie got his first job with Sandy and Blanche Van Ginkel of Van Ginkel & Associates in Montreal.
• The following year he went to Philadelphia to apprentice under Louis I. Kahn, whose work is said to infuse the International style of architecture with a "poetry of light." Safdie described Kahn as "the only architect on the planet I wanted to work for at that moment."

• During his second year with Kahn, Safdie was approached by Sandy Van Ginkel who had recently been made the deputy responsible for physical planning for the upcoming World's Fair in Montreal.
• Safdie accepted Van Ginkel's invitation to work with Expo 67 and moved back to Montreal to begin work on Habitat.
• He opened his own office in Montreal in 1964.

• As a child, Safdie kept bees and spent a great deal of time studying their social and architectural habits. This, and the hillside architecture of Haifa strongly influenced Safdie's approach to architecture.
• View the entire clip to learn more about Safdie's beliefs, values and roots.


• Safdie married his first wife, Nina Nusynowicz, in 1959. They had a daughter, Taal, in 1961 and a son, Oren, in 1965. They later divorced and Safdie remarried in 1981 to Michal Ronnen with whom he has two daughters, Carmelle and Yasmin.
Medium: Television
Program: Telescope
Broadcast Date: March 16, 1971
Guest(s): Moshe Safdie
Host: Ken Cavanagh
Duration: 2:25

Last updated: January 22, 2014

Page consulted on March 6, 2014

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