Yesterday, I visited someone who lives in Habitat 67. It was the first time I had been inside the landmark apartment complex, built as part of Expo 67 and based on Moshe Safdie’s McGill master’s project, and I was surprised at what an awe-inspiring experience it was to wander through it.
Although Habitat is known around the world for its unique modular design (The Walrus’ current issue has an interesting look at the ideas behind its design), what makes it a truly spectacular building is the way it relates to its surrounding environment. It’s an almost indescribable experience to stand on the top floor of Habitat, the St. Lawrence’s swift current rushing behind me, the sun setting over Mount Royal and the downtown skyline before me. If it hadn’t been so cold, I could have spent the entire afternoon staring at the ocean liners mired in ice, the port’s cranes framing the Farine Five Roses sign, the Victoria and Champlain bridges spanning an icy river bathed in pink light. More than that, though, Habitat actively frames that view, creating unexpected sightlines and unique vantage points.
The only disappointing thing about my visit to Habitat was its surroundings at the Cité du Havre, the long spit separating Montreal’s small harbour from the rest of the St. Lawrence. Its development since Expo 67 has been completely uninspired: aside from Habitat, there are a couple of bland, stubby condominium complexes, a dull park and a busy road leading to the Casino on Notre Dame Island. There’s no transit access (residents have a private shuttle that takes them downtown) and no easy way to get there by foot. What a shame.