Building to last: Dexter and Byron Peart reflect on living in Habitat 67 during a pandemic
The brothers take us on a tour to share how the building has stood the test of time — and the pandemic
The pandemic has put a spotlight on how we live and the role of the architecture around us. This story is part of CBC Arts: Exhibitionists episode focused on architecture and design, streaming now on CBC Gem.
The COVID-19 pandemic has many of us working from home and all of us going out less to dine, shop, travel and socialize. With all of this new time in our own space, we are confronted with the design of our homes and neighbourhoods in new ways. How does the design around us contribute to our mental and physical health?
We can turn to groundbreaking moments in architecture for some insight — like Montreal's iconic Habitat 67. The 158-unit residential building was created over half a century ago by Moshe Safdie and continues to stand apart as an innovation in urban living. Built for Expo 67, Habitat was envisioned as a new type of urban housing that allowed for the high density of an apartment building with modular units but provided what was missing from typical highrises and is essential for healthy living: a connection to nature and community. Safdie's building offered open-air laneways, communal open spaces, plenty of windows to natural light and, most famously, a garden for everyone.
Byron and Dexter Peart — brothers, designers and co-founders of the online marketplace Goodee — both live in the building and have found that its design has had a big impact on their lives and work.
"As designers, we've always approached a very key element that if you're going to design things, they should be built to last," says Dexter in this video by filmmaker Nika Khanjani. "It's just sort of an underpinning of what our design tenets are all about. It's obviously reinforced by the fact that we're living in a building that's 52 years old that surprises us every single day about all of its unique functions but also its unique beauty."
As we consider how the design of our spaces influences the way we live, Habitat 67 stands as an enduring reminder of what is possible when architects design buildings with our future health and happiness in mind.
"How will we live together in the future? How do we connect as humans?" says Dexter. "We see it every single day when you're walking across to your neighbour here but I think they're just very powerful ideas for all architects, all designers to start rethinking where the home is more than a product."
For the Peart brothers, who live in separate units with their families within Habitat 67, "walking across to your neighbour" means moving through an open-air corridor within the concrete building. The design of the building also allows them to meet outside in one of the communal areas with benches, plants and water features, or work together on a laptop on one of their private garden terraces.
"We feel quite blessed to be in a building like this that has so much history and shared stories and I guess in our own way, we're continuing that fabric of a narrative, too," says Byron about Goodee, the global online marketplace founded by the Pearts. The company offers homewares and products inspired by the values of "good design, good people, and good impact."
"The whole idea of Goodee was to create a space or a destination for products that spoke to things that would last or a long time," says Dexter. "And so to think of this building as being, in a lot of ways, the genesis of where those ideas came from, it's wildly exciting to be doing that in business now and reinforcing those ideals."
Stream CBC Arts: Exhibitionists season six episode focused on the role of architecture and design in our changing world now on CBC Gem.