Exploring Habitat 67: A Unique Experiment in Modular Architecture

f you ever find yourself in Montreal, there’s a peculiar structure on the waterfront that is bound to catch your attention. This is Habitat 67, a housing complex that was designed by Moshe Safdie as part of his graduate thesis while studying architecture at McGill University. The building was erected to provide temporary accommodation for workers from all over the world who were involved in Expo 67, the 1967 World’s Fair.

Habitat 67 is a housing complex in Montreal in a sunny day, Quebec, Canada

Habitat 67 is a housing complex in Montreal in a sunny day, Quebec, Canada
Photo by depositphotos.com

Habitat 67 is an experiment in modular architecture, with the aim of replicating an organic growth that combines nature with geometric patterns. It is designed in the metabolism style that was popular in Japan during the 1960s and is often linked to the Nakagin Capsule Tower. Despite being frequently referred to as a Brutalist masterpiece, Safdie contends that it is, in fact, a reaction to the Brutalist movement of that time. The Habitat was intended to enhance the quality of life for middle-class city residents.

Each unit in the building has access to a private garden, most of which are situated on top of the roof of a neighboring apartment. The 354 identical pre-fabricated boxes used in constructing the building were produced at a factory built next door specifically for this purpose. These boxes formed 158 apartments ranging from one to four bedrooms, although some units have since been merged, reducing the number to 148.

Habitat 67 is a housing complex in Montreal of 354 identical, prefabricated concrete forms arranged in various combinations, reaching up to 12 stories in height

Habitat 67 is a housing complex in Montreal of 354 identical, prefabricated concrete forms arranged in various combinations, reaching up to 12 stories in height

Living in the Habitat has never been affordable. With a final cost of $22 million, it went way over budget, forcing the government-owned building to charge unusually high rental rates to recoup the construction costs. To put it into perspective, in 1968, average rents in Montreal were only a few hundred dollars for a whole house, while the Habitat charged nearly $1,000 for a one-bedroom unit. Nevertheless, the Habitat is now one of the most prestigious addresses in Montreal.

Habitat is not located in the city center, but in an industrial area with no amenities such as the Metro, shopping centers, or even other homes. This is ironic, considering that Safdie’s original plan was to create a larger community with over 1,000 apartments, shops, and a school.

Critics of the Habitat argue that its purpose was to provide low-cost housing for the lower classes, pointing to the incredibly expensive apartments as evidence of its failure. However, Safdie has consistently stated that Habitat was designed for the middle class, providing suburban-style housing in an urban environment as a new model for city living.

Habitat 67 remains home to hundreds of Montreal residents today.

Getting there

If you’re planning on visiting Habitat 67, be aware that public transportation is not available in the area. Driving or taking a long walk is your best option. One option is to take the metro to Parc Jean-Drapeau, catch a glimpse of Buckminster Fuller’s biosphere, and walk over the Pont de la Concorde. Unfortunately, the apartments are highly exclusive, and the property is well-guarded. However, guided tours are available from May to October, and tickets should be booked early because they tend to sell out quickly. Another option is to rent a bicycle from the bike-sharing program in Montreal and cycle to Habitat 67. Walking around the area is not allowed unless you take the guided tour. Nevertheless, if you are an architecture enthusiast, visiting Habitat 67 is a must.

Address:
2600 Av Pierre-Dupuy
Montreal, Qu├ębec, H3C 3R6
Canada

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