Habitat 67’s Biggest Ideas Still Resonate Today

More than 50 years after Moshe Safdie unveiled the career-defining Habitat 67 in Montreal, his firm is making major headway on three new projects that expand upon its ideals of socially responsible design.

Habitat 67. Image courtesy of Safdie Architects

It should come as no surprise that Moshe Safdie is still riffing on ideas he explored with Habitat 67, a model community and housing complex in Montreal that immediately drew attention with its dramatic stepped profile and private landscape terraces. Conceived during his master’s thesis and realized as a pavilion for Expo 67, Habitat quickly became one of Canada’s most recognizable buildings and is considered to be Safdie’s architectural opus.

Its idiosyncratic housing model—354 prefabricated concrete boxes equipped with their own private outdoor spaces and arranged in a pixelated mass—presented an influential vision for nature-infused urban living and a major step forward in the possibilities of prefabrication that still resonates today. Safdie can attest—many original residents still live there, and he recently oversaw a painstaking restoration of some units to update their energy standards. 

Five decades later, and Safdie’s firm is making major headway on a multitude of new residential buildings that riff on Habitat’s most groundbreaking ideas. “Moshe has held steadfast with his thesis for over 50 years that designing to improve our quality of life must be a priority for the profession,” says design partner Jaron Lubin. “We’re now seeing many of the ideas, once held as mere utopian dreams, becoming a reality. Habitat 67’s legacy has so much more potential yet to explore.”

According to Safdie, those ideals have become newly relevant as pandemic-induced isolation has all but redefined how we interact with spaces both interior and exterior. “Over the past year, there has been a rediscovery of the interdependence between nature and society,” Safdie says. “We’ve seen an outcry for our basic human needs to be met—access to daylight, outdoor space, connection to nature, and the ritual of public life at all scales.” The projects below, slated for completion in the near future, check all the boxes.

Altair Residences (Colombo, Sri Lanka)

Designed with the needs of a tropical home in mind, a pair of cascading towers—one 63-story tower leaning upon its 69-floor counterpart—feature a stepped formation that creates a vertical sea of large garden terraces facing Beira Lake. Offering a retail arcade and waterfront promenade, the building will become the island nation’s tallest when it opens in September.


Qorner Tower (Quito, Ecuador)

Overlooking the vibrant La Carolina Park, this 24-story tower maximizes the potential of its small site with a profile that steps back to reveal a “hillside” of double-height private terraces. Slated for completion in early 2022, the building also responds to the region’s seismic conditions with a concrete frame stabilized by a robust shear-wall concrete core.


Habitat Qinhuangdao (China)

Set between the Chinese city’s urban density and the Bohai Sea’s idyllic coastline, this major development features stepped and staggered 30-floor buildings that, thanks to private terraces and balconies, make each unit feel like a penthouse. The first phase opened in 2017, but its second iteration doubles its footprint and opens in 2024.

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