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In the 1960s, there was no shortage of young visionaries with revolutionary architectural schemes. The difference between Moshe Safdie, FAIA, and almost everyone else was that his undergraduate thesis at McGill University in Montreal, which called for a radical hybrid of the suburban single-family home and the urban apartment building, actually got built. His plan involved stacking prefabricated concrete modules in dense, irregular geometric piles; he was thinking Italian hill town, but the end result more closely resembled the Taos Pueblo. Safdie’s Habitat 67 was one of the highlights of Expo ’67 in Montreal, which itself was a showcase of that era at its most utopian. (The U.S. pavilion, for instance, was a 20-story-tall geodesic dome by Buckminster Fuller.)
Safdie, who was 29 at the time, achieved more fame for his first built project—designated a heritage site by the Quebec government in 2009—than most architects ever achieve. Conspicuously inventive, formally and structurally, with an ambitious social mission, Habitat was a harbinger of the projects Safdie would design in the succeeding decades, a body of work that earned him the AIA’s Gold Medal this year. […]