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Little boxes: Moshe Safdie's Habitat '67

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.

Construction has begun on what will become the symbol of Expo 67 - and a dream come true for a young architect. Just three years out of McGill architecture, 26-year-old Moshe Safdie's undergraduate thesis is being built as the centrepiece of the Montreal World's Fair. Unconventional, daring and visionary, Habitat '67 attempts to bring the best of suburban family living to a dense, urban setting. CBC's Adrienne Clarkson gets a tour of the model with the architect.
• Habitat is a housing complex that was built as the "Man and His Environment" pavilion at Expo 67.
• It consists of 158 homes made from 354 precast units called "boxes." Apartments are made up of anywhere from one to eight boxes, depending on the size. Each apartment has a garden and a private entrance.
• Safdie designed Habitat with families in mind, and often made reference to his vision of it swarming with children.


• The original plans called for 1,200 units, a hotel, two schools and a shopping area but was downscaled because it was too expensive.
• Because Habitat was not built to the scale that was originally intended, the cost per unit was much higher than anticipated.
• Habitat is the only Expo 67 building still being used for its original purpose.

• In 1986 the residents of Habitat joined together to purchase the building. They paid $11.3 million, just over half of the $21 million it cost to build Habitat two decades earlier.
• After the sale, Safdie continued to act as a consultant for building modifications.
• According to a Brandeis University newspaper report, Habitat was the first major prefabricated housing project ever constructed.

• Safdie was commissioned to design other Habitats around the world: New York (1967), Puerto Rico (1968), Israel (1969), Rochester (1971), Tehran (1976) and Baltimore (1980).
• None of the projects was completed, with the exception of Baltimore's Coldspring New Town, which was only partially completed.
• The Ardmore Condominiums (1980) in Singapore are a modified version of the Habitat concept.

• "They call it 'the soul, the genius' of the Fair, and suggest that, as symbols go, it will make the Eiffel Tower seem a collection of girders leading up to a hot dog stand. All this heady stir is over Habitat '67." -- Time Magazine, June 1964, speaking of Expo 67 planners.
• In 1962 Safdie submitted a sketch and a letter outlining a pavilion for the 1964 New York World's Fair. The six-unit housing plan, also based on his McGill University thesis, was never acknowledged.

• In 1974 the Northwest Territories government commissioned Safdie to build 81 housing units to replace existing government housing in Iqaluit (Frobisher Bay).
• The project was cancelled before the prototype was completed. Safdie's project was to build igloo-shaped houses and the local government preferred the bungalow model.
• One year later the government designed and built 30 houses that cost $42,000 more per house than Safdie's design.
Medium: Television
Program: Take 30
Broadcast Date: Feb. 3, 1966
Guest(s): Moshe Safdie
Host: Adrienne Clarkson
Duration: 4:23

Last updated: June 10, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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