Moshe Safdie: Canadian Architect Extemporaire

To architects around the world, the name Moshe Safdie conjures the seminal Montreal Habitat ’67 project. Having visited the project on several occasions on trips to Montreal, I must say that even today nearly 4 decades after it was built it has a certain “cutting edge” to it.

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The Miami Herald has a wonderful article on Moshe Safdie, reproduced below.

You’ll see the soul of a visionaryBy MARTA BARBER

When young Moshe Safdie had to move from his native Haifa to Montreal, the devoted Zionist saw the transplant as a spiritual loss. Yet, by 26, Safdie, inspired by the color and sloped urban dwellings of his childhood and by the endless compositions possible with Lego plastic blocks, won the competition to build what has become the architect’s signature piece: Montreal’s Habitat ’67.

The modular apartment housing, conceived originally for low- to middle-income families but now reserved for the rich, stands on the river island as a monument to the impact of architecture. It is an impact that Safdie, today a Canadian and Israeli citizen and a resident of the United States, has wanted to achieve in his numerous projects, from Harvard’s expansion of its business school, including a nondenominational chapel, to the Kansas City Performing Arts Center.

To say that Safdie has left an imprint in urban centers around the world is like saying that hip-hop has changed pop culture.

Donald Winkler’s documentary follows the architect from his early days in Haifa to his present jet-setting life as a man with offices in many cities. What comes through in this interesting film is that Safdie is an artist, a bit full of himself, but with the vision to build buildings not only aesthetically beautiful and solidly built, but integral parts of the community they serve.

Elegantly dressed throughout the film in identical Nehru-like white shirts, the white-bearded Safdie takes us to some of his buildings, with their glass-paned passageways and rounded corners, while explaining why he chose each design.

But besides being a world-class architect, Safdie has the heart of a socialist and the soul of a pacifist. He lives with his second wife part-time in Jerusalem, where he remodeled part of the Old City that had fallen into disrepair. Overlooking the most important landmarks of the city that is holy to three religions, it’s easy to see how he is inspired to send out the message that peace must come to that part of the world.

One of the most interesting parts of the documentary is Safdie’s description of his relationship with Yitzhak Rabin, the assassinated prime minister of Israel who fought for a dialogue with the Palestinians. Influenced by the slain leader, Safdie is a deep believer in bringing down the wall that has been built to divide the Palestinian quarter from the Jewish quarter along the West Bank. Besides its philosophical message, Safdie says, “It’s ugly.”

His biggest project today is the construction of a city, Modi’in, where he is able to bring all his political and humanist views to fruition.

There’s no doubt that Safdie lives and breathes the métier he has chosen or the influence that can have in present-day living. It’s a vision that today’s builders should learn something from.