Habitat 67 developed out of architect Moshe Safdies 1961 thesis project and report (A
Case for City Living: An Investigation into the Urban Dwelling for Families). It was
realized as the main pavilion and thematic emblem for the International World Exposition
and its theme, Man and His World, held in Montreal in 1967. Born of the socialist ideals
of the 1960s, Safdies thesis project explored new solutions to urban design challenges and
high-density living. His ideas evolved into a building system which pioneered the
prefabrication and mass-production of modules, called boxes, conceived as highly adaptable housing
prototypes for various sites and climatic conditions.
Habitat New York was to have provided luxury, high-density housing and a
full array of commercial, retail, office, and institutional facilities within a
single complex in New York City. The project evolved in two schemes. Designs for
Habitat New York I were undertaken by Safdie between October and December, 1967,
for a waterfront site overlooking the East River, north of the mayors
Gracie Mansion in uptown New York City. When the principal backer, Carol
Haussamen, changed the site to a second location on the East River in lower
Manhattan in March, 1968, Safdie developed an entirely new structural system.
The designs for Habitat New York II were developed between May and December,
1968. Neither schemes were realized; Habitat New York was abandoned due to
Funded by the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), Habitat Puerto Rico was
commissioned as a prototype for providing low-cost housing to moderate-income
families in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Though unbuilt, the project was
developed in two phases and for two different sites between 1968 and the time of
the project's termination in 1973. Both sites shared similar topographical
features in underdeveloped neighbourhoods of San Juan. Phase I of the project,
designed for the neighbourhood of Hato Rey, evolved in planning stage only
between 1968 and February 1969. This mountainous site was ultimately rejected by
the FHA in favour of a second site, known as Berwin Farm, on which some
preliminary construction did occur between March 1969 and 1973.
When the Israeli Ministry of Housing commissioned Safdie to produce a
prototype for industrialized housing for Israel in 1969, there were specific
design imperatives which needed to be met, and for which Safdie's system of
prefabricated modules seemed perfectly suited. These imperatives stemmed chiefly
from Israel's varied climatic and topographical conditions, as well as its
diverse density requirements (ranging from 10-40 units per acre), owing to the
country's mixed desert and mountain geography. Safdie thus devised a modular
system featuring rotating domes, enabling the resident to transform outdoor
terrace space into an indoor solarium at will. These retractable roofs would
become an integral feature in Safdie's subsequent Israeli projects. This project
Habitat Rochester was developed as a
feasibility study for a 1,200-unit residential complex to be sited near downtown
Rochester, New York. Complying with the density requirements and budgetary
constraints of the U.S. Federal Housing Authority (FHA) and the Urban
Development Corporation (UDC), the projects master plan sought
to combine high-density site requirements with amenable living
conditions for its low- and moderate-income family residents. The project
foresaw community facilities such as daycare centres and commercial stores
within the complex. Unlike any other Habitat projects, Habitat Rochester was
conceived as a cooperative for its residents, who were to partake in aspects of
the projects initial design process. Moshe Safdie and John Fujiwara
jointly produced the master plan for the project. This project was never
Commissioned by Her Imperial Majesty, the Shahbanou of Iran, Habitat Tehran
was intended to provide high-density, middle- to upper-income housing for
Iranian officials and members of the Shahs Court in the prestigious
Elahieh neighbourhood of Tehran. Safdie
combined the standard Habitat features of prefabricated, modular housing units
with elements drawn from Iranian culture, notably in the design of an
atrium-court and in the attention to in-coming light within each residence.
Dwellings were to feature openings in at least three directions, two of which
were to face sunrise and sunset as is common in Iranian tradition. The project
was halted during its planning stage in 1978.
After three major design revisions between 1961 and 1964, Habitat
emerged in built form in 1967 as a series of precast, concrete units, called boxes,
clustered along a spine of three, hill-shaped structures, and held together by
post-tensioning, high-tension steel rods, cables, and welding. While the original designs
for Habitat conceived of 950 modular units to be plugged into a vertical super-frame
structure standing just over twenty storeys high, Habitats finished size was much more
modest in scale, numbering 354 boxes at a cost of approximately $21 million.
Modelled after the suspension system of a sailboats mast and boom,
Habitat New York II was conceived in two parts: three, fifty-storey core
structures were to house elevators and mechanical services, while modules were
to be suspended via cables from each of these structures' three projecting arms.
At the base of the complex there was to have been one million square feet of
office, retail, commercial and hotel space.
The first phase of Habitat Puerto Rico foresaw the construction of 600 to
800 hexagonal modules, arranged in clusters of 12, to form 264 dwellings set
within a steep slope overlooking San Juan. The Berwin Farm scheme was much more
modest in scale. Consisting of only 150-300 hexagonal units (also to be
clustered in groups of 12), it would have been one quarter to one half the size
of the Hato Rey plan. As in all Habitat designs, each residence at Habitat
Puerto Rico was to feature a private terrace and garden located on the roof-top
of the module below.
As Habitat housing was intended to be implemented at various sites throughout the
country, Safdie devised a modular system adaptable to different densities,
climates and topographical conditions. In all, approximately 1,500 units were
planned, ranging in size (from one to four bedrooms), and area (from 77 to 97
m sq. [829 to 1044 ft sq.]--excluding terraces). Safdie's innovative approach to meeting the
local building code (which stipulates the use of Jerusalem stone for all
building surfaces) was to combine Jerusalem stone aggregate with a concrete
mixture, and then to sandblast the finished surface (as he had done in Habitat
'67) in order to reveal the local stone. Safdie planned to use chemically
stressed lightweight concrete for this project.
Habitat Rochester was to be a multi-storeyed complex with units arranged on
the diagonal around the perimetre of the complexs focal point, a central
square. Additional clusters of modules radiated as extended arms from this main
configuration of dwellings. The diagonal arrangement of modules with their
slanting roofs conferred a dynamic appearance on the scheme. A series of
external pedestrian walkways were designed to link residences with the
complexs commercial facilities. Both stairwells and elevators provided
the complex with its vertical circulation systems.
Originally Habitat Tehran was to feature 180, one-, two-, and three-bedroom
dwellings tightly clustered into a single mass on a hilly site overlooking the
city of Tehran. The scale of the project was later modified and reduced to 162
residences, a design which omitted one-bedroom units and added a supplementary
configuration of four-bedroom residences. Open-air passages with direct access
to residences were designed to be located on every four levels of the complex
(and every two in the high-rise sections). These external corridors were to be
landscaped, and to periodically open into public courts and gardens. As in all
Habitat projects, each residence also provided access to a private roof garden
which converted into an indoor greenhouse, to maximize the use of space at all
times of the year.
In Safdies earliest designs for Habitat 67, the building was to be constructed out of
rhomboid-shaped modules, a form which gave way in subsequent drawings to the simpler
geometry of rectangular boxes. Each module measures 12 m x 5.33 m x 3 m, or 56 m sq. (38 ½ ft long x 17 ½ ft wide x 10 ft high, totalling 600 ft sq.), and weighs as much as 90 tons. Habitats modules were all
constructed and assembled in situ: an on-site factory was used to produce concrete which
was then applied to the prefabricated steel cages that were to become Habitats signature
modules. The modules were then lifted into place on the main structure by crane, and
arranged in one of 16 different configurations. The concrete exteriors were sandblasted,
and no further surface treatment was added.
For both Habitat New York schemes, modules were to be
octagonal in plan and cast in prestressed or lightweight concrete at a local
factory and shipped along the East River to the Habitat site. In the case of
Habitat New York II, two separate octagonal modules were to be realized (each
differing in size and shape), and combined to produce numerous configurations
for single- or multi-level dwellings. For this second scheme, each units
plumbing and electrical elements were to have been supplied directly through the
modules, before being routed back to a central structural core at the complex's
The basic shape of the modules designed
for Habitat Puerto Rico was a split-level hexagon. The geometry of the hexagon
would have provided shade to underlying residences by virtue of the way units
were to be stacked and cantilevered atop one another. Once prefabricated at a
central manufacturing plant, these light-weight, concrete units were to be
transported via truck or barge to their intended site. It was thus shipping
requirements which dictated that the width of the modules not exceed 3.6 m (12 ft)
so as not to hinder their transportation on the islands highways.
Unlike earlier Habitat projects which featured self-contained units with no projecting volumes, the modules for Habitat Israel were conceived in two essential parts: the box and the dome. The semi-circular,
mechanized fibreglass dome that Safdie devised specifically for this project was
to be fitted into a track located at approximately two-thirds the length of the
module's principal concrete box (measuring 11.6 m x 3.6 m [38 ft x 12 ft]). This rotating dome
would have allowed each resident to control the exposure of sunlight entering their residence.
There were also subcomponents designed to be added to
the module, depending on the site's specific requirements. The Ministry of Housing had
conceived of placing various manufacturing plants throughout the country to
produce these prefabricated modules.
Like the original Habitat in Montreal, individual modules
for Habitat Rochester were designed as concrete, rectangular boxes, measuring 3.6
m x 10.9 m (12 ft x 36 ft). Units were composed of two overlapping modules
arranged at right angles to one another, creating two-storey residences with
slanting roofs for added volume and height. Each residence was also to have
featured a 3.6 m x 3.6 m (12 ft x 12 ft) garden terrace, convertible for indoor
winter use and accessible by sliding glass doors. Residences were to have ranged
from one-bedroom units measuring 56.2 m sq. (605 ft sq.), to
three-bedroom units measuring 90.6 m sq. (975 ft sq.).
As construction techniques and structural issues were never
finalized for this project throughout its two-year life span, the decision to
use a fully industrialized box system (whereby the modules would be
prefabricated and cast on site as opposed to being built according to
conventional construction methods), remained unresolved. Nevertheless, modules
were to be variations on Safdies signature boxes, most of which would be
configured into two-storey dwellings oriented around a two-level atrium.
Residences were to vary in size from two-, three-, and four-bedroom units, and
in area, from 112 m sq. to 224 m sq. (1206 to 2411 ft sq.). Habitat Tehran is the only
Habitat design not to feature one-bedroom dwellings, which were felt to be
unnecessary in a family-oriented complex.
Habitat 67s remarkable engineering achievement is also one of the
buildings most distinguishing and trademark features: the very modules that cantilever out
of its three-part 290 metre (950 foot) spine are in fact themselves structural members. Each organ of
Habitat--its dwelling units, walkways, and three sets of paired elevator shafts--acts as a
loadbearing structure to the overall building. Modules were to be stacked and clustered
following principles of compression and post-tensioning. This system was devised under
the direction and guidance of Habitats structural engineer, Dr. A. E. Komendant.
Following the nautical principles of a sailboats mast and boom,
light-weight modules were to be suspended within a matrix of concrete-encased cables.
These cables were to have extended between the top of the structural core and a compression
beam at the complexs base. Pedestrian walkways were to have originated from the
core building tower, providing access to modules flanking either side of the passage.
The hexagonal modules of Habitat Puerto Rico were to be clustered in groups of 12 and stacked on top of
each other in adjacent rows in honeycomb formation. Bridges were conceived to connect the
various clusters. The basic shape of the hexagon presupposed that the modules would fit
together as cantilevered loads. These loads were to be assembled by steel-cabled post-tensioning,
thereby following the same principles of compression as seen in the original Habitat 67.
A typical residence might include as many as three modules. The basic modules split-levelling
was specifically designed to minimize the internal space traditionally lost to staircases.
Units were to be arranged in varying configurations of one- to four-bedroom dwellings.
The basic module of Habitat Israel was designed so as to allow
maximum versatility in its assemblage. Therefore, it would have been conceivable to have hillside
terracing or high-rise clusters for certain Israeli sites, and low-lying, two- and three-storey
houses in others, or even units located side by side. Clusters of modules were to be stacked
around a main vertical service core, and connected by pedestrian walkways. In the case of multi-levelled units, some modules were to be connected by slanting roofs.
Modules for Habitat Rochester were to be assembled in the traditional Habitat manner,
stacked and compressed in a dense cluster of residences.
Modules were to be clustered and stacked in typical Habitat fashion, following
the natural incline of the Elahieh sites steep slope. At its peak, clusters of modules
were to have reached 14 storeys, while the complex would have expanded outward at the hills
base, tapering into low-lying configurations of dwellings.
Integral to the sense of community Safdie sought to create at
Habitat are its external walkways, called pedestrian streets, which interconnect the
multi-levelled residential modules on five storeys (Habitats ground floor, plaza, and
its fifth, sixth, and tenth floors), while providing access to each residence. It is
precisely these walkways which both expose the building to the natural elements and
open into communal spaces for Habitat residents. The commercial and institutional
facilities that Safdie had originally envisioned for the project--its schools, shops,
offices and cultural spaces--never materialized. A convenience store beneath Habitat
in the complexs 200-car underground parking lot is its only retail
Safdies scheme for Habitat New York II responded to the increased density criteria (300 units per acre) of its second prospective site, now in lower Manhattan at the Wall Street Pier, as well as to strict city by-laws prohibiting complete obstruction of views and access to the river. Safdie opted for an entirely different structural programme than that of Habitat New York I, one in which modules were to be grouped even more densely, not as loadbearing members, but suspended within a matrix of concrete-encased cables.
The intended location of Habitat Puerto Rico on inexpensive and
underdeveloped hilly terrain was not an insignificant reason for the projects failure. The steepness of the
site posed particular construction problems, which added to the overall cost of the project.
Had the project succeeded, Safdies hexagonal modules would nevertheless have provided great
versatility for different topographical sites in the manner they could be assembled to
produce high-density living environments.
The flexibility and versatility of Safdie's design for this particular Habitat scheme meant that the project was ideally suited to any number of topographical locations indigenous to Israel. His design sought to pair potential hillside locations or low-lying areas with structures of the appropriate height and density.
Habitat Rochester was to be built on a riverside site conveniently located close to Rochesters downtown core. The ground level was relatively flat. The main imperative was to accommodate the high number of units (1,200) within the tight spatial requirements of the U.S. Federal Housing Authority, which resulted in a density of 45 units to the acre.
Access to the chosen site for Habitat Tehran was difficult, as the project was to be constructed on a steeply sloping hill in the neighbourhood of Elahieh overlooking the city of Tehran and its nearby mountainous landscape. This particular site, located between single-family dwellings to the north and high-rise apartments to the south, conferred upon the project its major design motif. Safdie sought to relate to the site massing of both neighbouring developments, in addition to the steep topography itself, by combining high-rise towers and hillside cluster housing in a single, unified complex. From the structures base at the foot of the slope, units were to be stacked, increasing in density and in height as the slope itself rises.
Habitat is located on MacKay Pier (later renamed Cité du Havre), a
landfill peninsula bordered on either side by the St. Lawrence River, with views to
Montreals downtown area to the north, and Ile Ste-Hélène to the east. While Safdies main
goal in his thesis project was to establish the criteria for a housing system which could in
essence be adapted to diverse site conditions, he did nevertheless favour proximity to
downtown and a site with physical beauty. In this respect, the clustered Mediterranean
villages he recalled from his youth in Israel were of considerable influence to him.
Conforming to strict city by-laws which maintained that the
waterfront area remain visually unobstructed, the design for Habitat New York II
conceptualized the project suspended over the water, while encasing a marina, a hotel,
a vast shopping complex, offices, and parking for 3000 vehicles on the sites lower levels.
The neighbouring area of the site was at the time undeveloped, thus permitting
Habitats expansion should the project be enlarged at a future date.
The first site selected for Habitat Puerto Rico was a twenty-acre lot on a 76-metre (250-foot)
high hill in the San Patricio area of San Juan known as Hato Rey. The steep slope of Hato
Rey was to have accommodated 600 to 800 housing units at 40 units per acre, thereby meeting the high density living requirements of the moderate-income
housing project. The Berwin Farm site, for which a second scheme was developed and some
construction begun, was also a hilly terrain. The designs of both schemes maximized views
of the panoramic sites, by clustering residences along the steep incline, and locating all
of the complexs social elements--its shops, cafés, offices, outdoor amphitheatre and
14-storey high-rise towers--on the hills summit.
While Habitat Israel was originally conceived to be
implemented at multiple sites across the country, its 'test' site, chosen by Safdie, was an area
in Jerusalem called Manchat. This particular location provided the architect with the project's
two principal design challenges: how to create housing for hilltops (a prevalent feature in Israel)
and how to integrate innovative design with the more historic presence of existing Arab
hillside establishments. The earlier designs for Habitat Puerto Rico (1968-1970) were similarly
conceived for a hilly terrain.
The 30-acre project was to have occupied a site along the Genesee River, within walking
distance of Rochesters downtown area. In spite of the projects rigorous high-density
requirements (approaching 45 units to the acre), parking and landscaped recreational areas
were integral to the plan. Circulation routes were to have separated vehicular and
pedestrian traffic. Elevated, open-air walkways traversed the complex, linking residences
with the sites commercial and recreational facilities.
Safdies design followed the topography of its five-and-a-half
acre site with its steep slope by building units directly along its incline. In this way,
panoramic views overlooking the city of Tehran were maximized for each unit. Particular
structural concerns arose due to the seismic conditions of the site, for which the projects
engineering consultant, Dr. Komendant, suggested the use of U- and L-shaped modules in
place of entire boxes. Such shapes, Dr. Komendant argued, would have provided greater
stability and protection against the threat of earthquakes.
The progressive ideas that Safdie pioneered in his designs for Habitat 67, including the introduction of industrialized building methods such as assembly-line strategies and on-site construction, have never been developed to the scale that would render them viable for Safdies original goal of providing cost-effective housing. Nevertheless, Safdie continues to explore variations on the systems he first developed for
Habitat 67. Subsequent Habitat-inspired projects allowed Safdie to redress some of the structural challenges posed by Habitat. To reduce the stresses and forces on loadbearing structures, for example, Safdie explored different geometries for creating his box shapes, including tetrahedrons, octahedrons, and rhombic dodecahedrons.
The use of prestressed concrete, a lighter material than traditional concrete, would have allowed Safdie to build high and increase the complexs density. Taking full advantage of the site bordering the East River, Safdie planned to cantilever certain modules over the water, thereby providing high-density environments
without infringing on available land.
Creating cost-effective housing in Puerto Rico was a preliminary requirement for the project. Specific strategies to lower building costs included the use of a hexagonal unit and a reduction in its weight from the standard 70-ton model to 22 tons; the simplification of structural systems (such as the elimination of elevators and the reduction of staircases); and the implementation of industrialized housing techniques in a central manufacturing plant for the mass-production of homes.
Habitat Israel was originally conceived to create mass-produced, low-cost housing for a country with a perpetual housing shortage. Safdie's original designs also promised the implementation of modernized building techniques where it was greatly needed.
While Habitat Rochester was not the only Habitat project to feature multi-level dwellings (Habitat Tehran and Habitat Puerto Rico were to have done so too), its modules had virtually the smallest surface plan of all Habitat projects. The particular configuration of modules into overlapping, perpendicular units was deliberately intended to give the illusion of a more spacious interior.
Strategies for this particular project evolved from cultural and climatic considerations indigenous to Tehran. Both of these exigencies were resolved through the inclusion of the atrium-court in the basic modular design. This feature respected the Iranian tradition of providing each home with an internal garden, while equally making this feature convertible to the seasons.