In 1996, organization and description of the Safdie Archive at McGill University culminated in the prize-winning publication of Moshe Safdie: Buildings and Projects, 1967-1992 (McGill-Queen's University Press). The present virtual exhibit highlights what has become the single most dominant aspect of Safdie's work: large-scale public projects with a distinct cultural and educational mission.
A recent exhibition organized at the Tel Aviv University Art Gallery ( Moshe Safdie: Museum Architecture 1971-1998: If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem: Between Memory and Identity) focused on eighteen large-scale projects which best exemplify the architect's growing involvement in the design of buildings intended not merely to house, but to explicate, diverse collections of national and international significance. At McGill, we have included a broader selection of projects related to the protection and dissemination of culture. We have also added the most recent projects that the electronic medium can literally capture in the transition from conception to construction.
Our virtual exhibit aims to draw attention to two aspects in particular. First is an inherent plurality of 'cultures' informing the design itself: location, site, memory of place, functions envisaged, the full 'user spectrum' of the prospective building, the nature and complexity of the collections or mission, together with the pressing necessity to make these live in a manner at once exciting and comprehensible to different audiences. Social, economic and political dynamics also form part of the polysemic matrix which ultimately shapes the architect's design.
A second focus is the expanding range of international commisssions and competitions that have led Moshe Safdie to design and build for cultures outside his triangular 'home base' of Israel, Canada and the United States.As exemplified by the passionate debate that Habitat engendered both at home and abroad, Safdie's work has been international from the beginning. Yet, recent projects such as the competition for the Shenzhen Cultural Center in China, or the Khalsa Heritage Museum (Museum of Sikhism) currently in development for Punjab, India, have been marked departures from the more established international presence of Safdie's designs in Europe and North America. The challenge of designing within, and for, such different cultures can be both inspiring and overwhelming.
A virtual exhibition has the advantage of allowing incremental growth so that successive stages of Safdie's international work can be mapped out concurrently with the development of the designs themselves. This approach may also inform the planned retrospective exhibition in which the large corpus of Safdie's "buildings for culture" will play a central role.