When you go to Montreal, there’s a strange building on the waterfront that’ll catch your eye. Or maybe that’s what drew you to the city in the first place.
Habitat 67 was designed by Moshe Safdie as his graduate thesis while pursuing his MS degree at McGill University as an architecture student. While his design was not selected for any of of the prestigious architecture awards while in school, he was later encouraged by his thesis advisor to submit his thesis design for consideration to be built as a pavilion for Expo 67. His design was selected for inclusion of the Expo not long after he graduated, while he was still interning with Louis Kahn in Philadelphia.
An experiment in modular architecture in the metabolism style with was popular in Japan in the 1960s more commonly associated with the Nakagin Capsule Tower and Expo ‘70. The design was meant to imitate an organic growth, bringing together nature and geometric patterns. While often called a brutalist masterpiece, Sadfie insists instead that it is actually a reaction against the Brutalist movement.
Safdie designed the Habitat to be for people in the middle class as a way to improve their quality of life in an urban environment. He explained that his vision called for a garden for everybody, and indeed each unit had access to a private garden, most of which were literally built on top of the roof of a neighboring apartment. Each of the 354 identical pre-fabricated boxes were constructed at a factory built next door specifically to build the models. The boxes created 158 apartments between 1 and 4 bedrooms ( since reduced to 146 due to some being combined into larger units).
Living in the Habitat has never been cheap. With a final cost of $22 million, it ended up running massively over budget, resulting in the government owned building asking for unusually high rental rates in order to recoup the costs of construction. Consider this: in 1968 average rental rates in Montreal were a few hundred dollars for an entire house, but the Habitat was asking for closer to $1,000 per one bedroom unit. In 1986 the units were sold, mostly to renters already living there and now is mostly owner occupied. Today, you can buy a 1 bedroom unit for$500,000+ or rent one for about $3,000 per month. Today, the Habitat is one of the premier addresses in Montreal.
Habitat was (and still is) effectively in the middle of nowhere, located in an industrial area near no conveniences like the Metro, shopping centres, or even other homes. This is ironic considering that Safdie’s original plan called for a much larger community with 1,000+ apartments, shops, and even a school.
Many critics of the Habitat believe that the intended purpose of the community was to provide affordable homes for the lower classes and point the extraordinarily expensive apartments as proof of its failure. In fact, Safdie has stated from the start that Habitat was built for the middle class as a way to provide suburban type housing within an urban environment. Safdie intended for the community to be a new model for city living, providing residents with the benefits of suburban living while still benefiting from living within city limits. For that reason, Habitat is considered a success by its designer