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  Name   Moshe Safdie
  Born   July 14, 1938
  Nationality   Israel
  Official website   safdiearchitects.com

An Israel-born and Canada-educated architect who has maintained practices in

Jerusalem, Montreal, Boston, and elsewhere, Moshe Safdie is best known for his internationally recognized modern revisionist project, the Habitat housing experiment for the 1967 World’s Exposition in Montreal.

The initial idea for Habitat came to Safdie when he was working on his student thesis concerning cellular housing, questioning the social, environmental, ethical, and tectonic ideas of modernist architecture. Safdie drew on his childhood memories of the Israeli settlements to create an unsentimental articulate structure based on these traditional forms. Habitat was one of the first prefabricated housing complexes built at the time and was the forerunner of R.Buckminster Fuller’s megastructure Triton City (1968). Fuller’s project model introduced a floating city comprised of prefabricated cellular units, a flexible structure that was never realized. It was during the late 1960s that Safdie, like Fuller, began to believe in the promise of industrialization and prefabrication for low-cost and improved structures. The 1960s espoused various collective social agendas by architects as well as politicians; similarly, architects and urban designers were reassessing the urban and architectural ideas of the modernists. Expo ‘67’s Habitat project proved to be too expensive, and many difficulties arose in its construction. Greatly reduced in size, Habitat proved to evoke Safdie’s revisionist attitude, one that rejected the Le Corbusian and Miesian vertical models of Unite d’Habitation and the Lake Shore Drive Apartments in Chicago.

During the 1970s Safdie concentrated his efforts on massive urban design schemes that emphasized context. One of these schemes was a plan (1971) for a new town, Coldspring, close to Baltimore, Maryland. During this time, he also produced a number of urban projects in Israel including the Yeshivat Porat Joseph Rabbinical College (1971–79) in Jerusalem and the Desert Research Institute (and Ben Gurion Archives) (1974) in the Negev. The Rabbinical College, located in the center of the Jewish Quarter of the old city, combines a traditionally shaped structure with traditionally shaped domes of the region, using modern construction and materials. In this work, Safdie explored the use of natural lighting and its symbolic quality. This symbolic use of lighting played a key role in his later works. Corresponding to its site and its context within the city, the Rabbinical College marries tradition with modernist invention. Safdie’s work in Jerusalem particularly corresponds with the indigenous architecture of the city, blending with its traditional geometric shapes and colors as well as with the site.

In 1982, Safdie was commissioned by the Canadian government to design the new National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. The building was completed in 1988, when he was then asked along with the firm Belzile, Brassard, Gallienne, Lavoie, with Sungur Incesulu and Maurice Desnoyers, to offer a scheme for a competition held for the Quebec Museum of Civilization (1988). They won the commission, and Safdie used ideas from his Jerusalem projects concerning the importance of place and cultural traditions; only this time, the northern and French culture of Canada was considered in the design process.

Safdie’s writings, including Beyond Habitat (1970) and For Everyone a Garden (1974), argue for a reevaluation of modernism that promotes the humanistic and ethical dimensions of architecture. Safdie is also dedicated to the idea of the importance of designing public buildings that are intertwined with city street life. Beyond Habitat by Twenty Years (1987) reviews the architectural, aesthetic, and political concerns of the 1960s, from Habitat project through Postmodernism of the 1980s. Safdie admonishes the postmodernist agenda of historical eclecticism that centers on architecture concerned mainly with stylization and detachment from site. Safdie’s technological ideas (manifest in Habitat) are also viewed as a starting point for other projects concerned with high- volume housing construction. He remains committed to a practice of contextualized architecture that is achieved through locality, iconography of site, color, and building technologies found geographically. His work investigates the importance of place, history, cultural identity, tectonics, and materiality.




14 July 1938 Born in Haifa, Palestine (now Israel);

1955 moved to Canada;

1955–61 Studied under H.P.D. Van Ginkel at McGill University, Montreal;

1959 dual citizenship;

1959 Married 1) Nina Nusynowicz (divorced 1981): 2 children; married 2) Michal Ronnen 1981:2 children.

1961 bachelor’s degree in architecture;

1961–62 Architect with Van Ginkel and Associates, Montreal;

1962–63 architect with the office of Louis I.Kahn, Philadelphia;

1963–64 section head, architect, and planner for the Canadian Corporation for the 1967 World Exhibition, Montreal;

from 1964 Private practice, Montreal;

1970 private practice, Toronto. Visiting professor, McGill University;

1971 Davenport Professor of Architecture, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut;

from 1971 private practice, Jerusalem;

from 1975 professor of architecture and director of the Desert Architecture and Environment Department, Desert Research Institute, Ben Gurion University, Beersheva, Israel;

from 1978 private practice, Boston;

1978–84 professor of architecture and urban design and director of urban design program, Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Cambridge, Massachusetts;

1984–89 Ian Woodner Studio Professor of Architecture and Urban Design, Harvard University Graduate School of Design;

1988 Fellow, Royal Architectural Institute of Canada; member, Ontario Association of Architects; member, Israel Institute of Architects and Engineers; member Royal Canadian Academy of Arts; member, American Institute of Architects. Order of Canada.










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