In 2007 I was living in Canada for a year. I travelled from Toronto to Montreal for a weekend to meet a family relative and I was taken around the city and shown the sights. These included the Biodome, a building originally built in 1976 for the Montreal Olympics as a velodrome but now is home to four different ecosystems, and the Biosphere built by the United States for Expo 67 that was held in the city.
Montreal has been shaped by the two events, especially the Expo. A subway system was constructed and the excavated soil was used to create Notre Dame Island. Just across the Saint Lawrence River an experimental building was built, Habitat 67.
I was recently encouraged to look through my photos after seeing Nick Coupland‘s artwork of Habitat 67. I originally thought that I had only taken two or three shots during my visit to the apartment complex so I was quite surprised to find a wide range exploring the exterior of the building and an inner courtyard.
Habitat 67 was designed by student architect Moshe Safdie as part of his program at McGill University. Eventually it was picked and funded for the Expo. 354 prefabricated concrete boxes were made on site. These were arranged in various ways and at its tallest Habitat 67 reaches 12 stories in height.
It’s hard to understand from the outside how this mishmash of identical blocks stacked together make a coherent living space on the inside. Originally Habitat 67 had 158 apartments varing in size. Over time changes were made, walls were knocked through to make larger living spaces decreasing the number of apartments to 148.
Habitat 67 was meant to revolutionise affordable prefabricated housing but some felt that the eventual high rent prices were a sign of the buildings failure. It is also situated in a part of Montreal that isn’t easily accessible by public transport. Luckily when I visited I was taken there by car.
Still Habitat 67 was a great success during the Expo and helped launch Safdie’s career as an architect. The building has since become a symbol of Expo 67 and a recognisable landmark.
One of my images from Habitat 67 is available as a print for a short period of time.