Our visit to Habitat 67

If you live in Montreal, Habitat 67 is a familiar, yet distant presence on the southern shore of the Lachine Canal. Originally built as a pavilion for Expo 67, Habitat was the vision of Isreli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie, in fact, it was conceived as his master’s thesis in architecture at McGill University. I have long seen the unique concrete blocks, stacked one on top of the other, almost delicately, from a distance. I never imagined I would get to walk through a unit (each 354 concrete forms are identical), embrace the spectacular views (on one side the rushing St. Lawrence River, on the other the old port climbing slowly upward toward the tip of Mount Royal), or learn the most fascinating, minute and sometimes implausible details that went into crafting what would become one of the most recognizable landmarks in our city.

Creativity drives us at Plank. Design is a common language. Our guided tour of Habitat 67 was a wonderful, stimulating, thought-provoking adventure that inspires us to see things differently, embrace the unusual and encourage new ways of looking at the world and our work.  There is much to say about how Habitat makes you feel, and an endless number of details we can share, so we’re sharing: what made an impression, what inspired most, what unimaginable design detail did Safdie bring into the world to last.

Close-up of Habitat 67's exterior

Véronique Pelletier, Interactive Designer

What I took away from our visit is the level of detail and planning it took to execute something of this scale and something so perfect. As a designer, I feel like we are always aiming for perfection, yet rarely achieve it. With Habitat 67, Moshe Safdie refused to compromise, he refused to take no for an answer in bringing his vision to life. It’s remarkable. 

Plank team members on a tour of Habitat 67

Kayla Keizer, Project Manager

What I loved about Habitat 67 were the straight lines, the neat and orderly placement of each cube and the precision of the flower arrangements. Every detail was considered, each element had a distinct purpose. It’s hard to imagine that during its construction in the 1960’s people were even thinking about these sorts of details, let alone building them. Good design is truly timelessness.

Exterior geometry of Habitat 67

Warren Wilansky, President & Founder 

As a singular residential complex that helped define Canadian architecture in the 1960s, Habitat is one of the few Expo 67 projects still standing. While the pueblo-like structure is unique and surprising, the most impressive thing is 360° views of Montreal and the St. Lawrence river. I’m happy that we were able to briefly experience something you only get to see if you live there.

A view of Habitat 67's exterior shared spaces

Megan, Frontend Developer

Like many Montrealers, I’ve always been intrigued by Habitat 67 and the mystique that surrounds it. Not only is it a significant piece of brutalist architecture, the stories and near-legends that surround it, makes it no less than iconic. Getting a look inside was like taking a peek behind the curtain. And what we saw was how an architect executed his unwavering vision with clarity and determination. 

A view of Habitat 67's exterior shared spaces

Christina, Backend Developer 

I loved hearing about the logistics of the truly modular design of Habitat 67. How it all couldn’t work without careful consideration of what is not seen: the plumbing, the air ducts, electricity etc. Everything was cleverly designed. It’s a wonderful reminder that even in analog projects, the structure and what’s behind the scenes is just as important as the beautiful exterior.

A view of Habitat 67's interlocking units

Jennifer Lamb, Creative Director 

It was inspiring to see what can happen when someone is willing to be uncompromising with the integrity of their vision. Every detail was carefully thought out — from frameless windows, a seamless integration of an invisible central A/C system, and the fact that you still feel both part of nature and the city despite being surrounded by floating slabs of concrete. Safdie even thought of sight lines — each unit is carefully positioned to give residents the best views possible without them feeling like they’re on top of one another, while avoiding any direct sight lines into each other’s units and patios.

A view of Habitat 67's interlocking units

So there you have it, Habitat 67 opens eyes and souls. For me, it was the sounds. The rushing water, the wind. It was a visual and auditory treat. And we will be seeking more sites and opportunities around our city to continue our exploration of design and beauty – inspiration that will seep into the work that we love.

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