While historic architecture is Montreal’s forte, that doesn’t mean there’s some experimental stuff worth seeing.
It may look like a pile of children’s blocks, but Habitat 67 is actually an experiment in urban living that
Built as part of Expo 67, held in Montreal, the structure recently turned 50. Over those five decades, it’s become iconic in the city. World Expos have a habit of that: Expo 86 brought us Vancouver’s Science Centre and Canada Place, the 1889 World’s Fair saw the unveiling of the Eiffel Tower and Seattle’s World’s Fair brought the Space Needle.
For Moshe Safdie, the architect behind the project, it was somewhat of a dream. The concept for the structure was something he’d come up with at McGill University while he was a student, and with Expo 67 coming up he was offered the chance as a young architect to see his cutting edge idea (suburbia in an industrial neighbourhood) become concrete.
The structure is built from 354 prefabricated concrete cubes, with around 150 residences inside made up of connected cubes. Habitat 67 brings a couple different architectural concepts together; the cellular nature of Metabolism and the rawness of Brutalism (whether Safdie intended or not).
Despite the repetitive nature of the individual cubes, Habitat 67 has lots of unique angles, since they’re each connected in different ways. Hitting 12 stories high at the highest point, the hard, inorganic concrete structure is offset by the trees surrounding it in some areas, creating an interesting dynamic.
Habitat 67 is located near downtown Montreal on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, so there’s plenty of options for getting to it (and taking pics). Transit is available but involves a 15-minute walk in industrial Montreal. Shots from the river give an excellent silhouette.
If you’re visiting Montreal it shouldn’t cost much to check out the sight. A couple bucks for parking or transit gets you to the structure. Since it’s an actual residence getting in is a different issue altogether, but the views are all from the outside.
TripAdvisor ranks it as 112 on it’s list of things to do in Montreal, but it’s also considered one of the most iconic and important buildings in Canada from that era by architects, and has been featured on a stamp. Atlas Obscura also has a profile on the building. While only a provincially recognized historic site right now, I wouldn’t be surprised if got elevated to national one day, but it’s still a fairly young site.
Due to its iconic nature, there’s an official website for the building.
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Let's see if I can recall what I learned on this fantastic tour of a Montreal architecture landmark called Habitat 67. This site of private residences consists of 148 apartment units, designed by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie at the mere age of 25 years old. (Safdie also designed the Skirball Cultural Center in LA off the 405.) He was attending McGill University in Montreal at the time he planned Habitat 67 for his master thesis. Safdie was approached by an old professor to submit his project to the upcoming World Fair Expo in 1967. The project was estimated to cost $12 million CAD but ultimately cost $22 million CAD. Each apartment unit doesn't necessarily equal one cube, it can be as large as 3 cubes, where the walls were knocked down to create 2-3 bedrooms. Each cube is made of prefabricated concrete made on site with a mold. Apartments have been sold from a range of $300K to over a million depending on the size and location. Safdie's intent was to create a "high density, low affordability" planned community at Habitat 67, a suburban oasis in the big city. Hope I got all this right! Many thanks to my tour guide Rachel (hope I remembered her name correctly), who was very knowledgeable in fielding all the questions that came her way. 🤓👏 _ #habitat67 #habitat67montreal #montrealcanada #montrealarchitecture #montrealart #canada_gram #historicallandmark #architecturetour #moshesafdie #brutalism #brutalist #brutalistarchitecture #concretearchitecture #1960sarchitecture #modernism #modernist #modernistarchitecture
Editor’s Notes —This is an updated version of the post I published last year when I took the first swing at this project.