Arts·Exhibitionists

How should urban design evolve from the pandemic? World-renowned architect Moshe Safdie has ideas

Safdie sat down with CBC Arts: Exhibitionists host Amanda Parris in our latest episode.

Safdie sat down with CBC Arts: Exhibitionists host Amanda Parris in our latest episode

How should urban design evolve from the pandemic? World-renowned architect Moshe Safdie has ideas

12 months ago
15:24
Safdie sat down with CBC Arts: Exhibitionists host Amanda Parris in our latest episode. 15:24

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.

Architect, urban designer, educator, theorist and author Moshe Safdie is world-renowned for many reasons, and we were proud to have him as our guest this past weekend's episode of CBC Arts: Exhibitionists, which focused on the art of architecture and design. Our host Amanda Parris sat down with Safdie via Zoom, and the above video is an extended version of that interview that you didn't get to see in the episode. 

Often identified with designing Marina Bay Sands and Jewel Changi Airport in Singapore, as well with as his debut project Montreal's Habitat 67 (which was originally conceived as his Master's thesis while studying at McGill University), Israeli-Canadian Safdie had much to say about the state of architecture and design in 2020.

"We're seeing a lot of high-density housing being built across Canadian cities, but the appetite for radical change, providing more open spaces in those buildings, upgrading the quality of life in them, is something that we're pretty slow to react to," he tells Parris. "Maybe the pandemic will be an incentive. I'm not sure. But I would hope that the spirit of adventure that's now appearing across the oceans would come back to us."

Moshe Safdie with Habitat 67 under construction. (Photo by Henry Groskinsky/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

When Parris asked Safdie if he thinks urban planning and design has contributed to the continuation of the pandemic, his answer is quite telling.

"Density, by definition, is not good for pandemics at any level," he explains. "Density in transportation, density in housing, density in places of shopping. Indoor life is bad for pandemics as compared with outdoor life. So a mall is a much more dangerous place to be in than a shopping street. So in many ways, this trend of urbanism to get everything indoor and air-conditioned and hermetically closed is a trend that's proving to be a real issue for the pandemic."

Safdie explains that in Toronto and many other Canadian cities, more and more buildings are full of small apartments.

"They're getting smaller and smaller and the family structure is changing," he says. "These buildings, at a minimum, need communal open space, roof terraces ... At this point, we need a lot of collective open spaces, and shopping should once again be opened up more and be more connected with nature and less symmetrically sealed in air-conditioned malls."

Watch the full interview above, and tune into this week's episode of CBC Arts: Exhibitionists — which centres on dance— Friday at 11:30 ET on CBC. Stream this past week's architecture and design episode now on CBC Gem.

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