Moshe Safdie, Profile of the Habitat Architect

b. 1938

White man, white hair, white mustache, Moshe Safdie in 2003
Moshe Safdie in 2003. Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Moshe Safdie came a long way to win the prestigious AIA Gold Medal in 2015. When growing up in Israel, Safdie thought he would study agriculture and become a farmer. Instead he became a citizen of three countries—Israel, Canada, and the United States—with architectural offices in four cities—Jerusalem, Toronto, Boston, and Singapore. Who is Moshe Safdie?

Background:

Born: July 14, 1938, Haifa, Israel; family moved to Canada when he was 15.

Education and Training:

  • 1961, McGill University, Montreal, Canada, six year degree in architecture
  • 1962, apprenticed with Daniel (Sandy) van Ginkel and Blanche Lemco-van Ginkel, Canada
  • 1963, apprenticed with Louis I. Kahn in Philadelphia, PA
  • 1964, Moshe Safdie and Associates, Inc.

Selected Projects:

  • 1967: Habitat '67, World Exhibition Expo '67, Montreal, Canada
  • 1988: National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada
  • 1991: Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Canada
  • 1993, Mamilla District, David's Village, Jerusalem, Israel
  • 1994 - 2013: Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, California
  • 1995: Vancouver Public Library, Vancouver, Canada
  • 1995: Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Vancouver, Canada
  • 2000: Exploration Place Science Center, Wichita, Kansas
  • 2003: Public Library, Salt Lake City, Utah
  • 2003: Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts
  • 2005: Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, Jerusalem, Israel

Six Design Principles that Direct Safdie's Approach:

  1. Architecture and Planning Should Shape the Public Realm: "create meaningful, vital, and inclusive social spaces"
  2. Architecture has a Purpose: design buildings that "address human needs and aspirations"
  3. Respond to the Essence of Place: design "specific to place and culture"
  4. Architecture Should be Inherently Buildable: design is informed by "the specific qualities of materials and the processes of construction"
  5. Build Responsibly: "We have to use resources efficiently while we advance our clients' goals."
  6. Humanize the Megascale: "mitigate the dehumanizing effect of mega-scale, and enhance the quality of life in our cities and neighborhoods"

Source: Philosophy, Safdie Architects at msafdie.com [accessed June 18, 2012]

In Safdie's Own Words:

  • "He who seeks truth shall find beauty. He who seeks beauty shall find vanity. He who seeks order shall find gratification. He who seeks gratification shall be disappointed. He who considers himself the servant of his fellow beings shall find the joy of self-expression. He who seeks self-expression shall fall into the pit of arrogance. Arrogance is incompatible with nature. Through nature, the nature of the universe and the nature of man, we shall seek truth. If we seek truth, we shall find beauty."—March 2002, Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) presentation, On Building Uniqueness
  • "I think you need to, as an architect, understand the essence of a place and create a building that feels like it resonates with the culture of a place. So my buildings in India or in Kansas City or in Arkansas or in Singapore, they come out different because the places are so different."PBS Newshour, Jeffrey Brown, October 14, 2011 transcript
  • "These cities of 20 million and 30 million people, with densities of thousands of families per acre, they require new inventions to humanize that mega-scale, to find a way in which, though we live densely and though we live one on top of each other, we still want nature, and we still want sunlight and we still want the garden, and we still want all the qualities that make a place humane. And that's our responsibility."PBS Newshour, Jeffrey Brown, October 14, 2011 transcript

Honors and Awards:

  • 1995: Royal Architectural Institute of Canada Gold Medal
  • 2015: AIA Gold Medal

Moshe Safdie and McGill University:

Safidie modified his McGill University thesis to submit to the Montreal Expo '67 competition. With the acceptance of Habitat '67, Safdie's career and continued association with Montreal was established. In 1990, the architect donated his vast archive of papers, drawings, and project records to the John Bland Canadian Architecture Collection (CAC) at McGill University.

Books by Safdie:

  • Moshe Safdie: Building and Projects, 1967-1992, with CD-ROM, McGill University Press
  • Beyond Habitat, 1970
  • For Everyone a Garden, 1974
  • Form and Purpose, 1982
  • Jerusalem: The Future of the Past, 1989
  • The City After the Automobile: An Architect's Vision, 1997
  • Moshe Safdie (Volume I), 1996
  • Yad Vashem, 2006
  • Moshe Safdie (Volume II), 2009
  • Safdie, 2014

About Safdie:

  • Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie by Donald Albrecht, 2010Moshe Safdie, The Power of Architecture Documentary Film by Donald Winkler, 2004

Sources: Biography, Safdie Architects (PDF); Projects, Safdie Architects; "Moshe Safdie, architect and global citizen," by Avigayil Kadesh, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, March 15, 2011 [websites accessed June 18, 2012]