Modular Living, Montreal Style

In the continuing spirit of last week’s Tokyo Noir in which I discussed a little bit about the Nakagin capsules. Fellow blogger and podcaster, and the now trio to me and Mel, Irina had followed me up with, “do you know of Habitat 67?” to which I replied, “of course I do!” but it a non-archisnob kind of way (I hope).

Days after she asked me this, I was perusing one of my favorite design websites, and lo and behold, Habitat 67 had made an appearance, but instead of a Noir-style photoshoot, it was featured in a more intimate setting. So, that being said, this post is dedicated to Irina & Mel. This is for you, my Canadian buddies, who love to appeal to the nerdy “archi-snob” (as Irina had so affectionately named me once) in me.

Revisited Habitat 67 by James Brittain
Habitat 67 via Dezeen, photographed by James Brittain

Original Article:

Photographs capture cats, laundry and everyday life in Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67

I decided to go with this particular post for one main reason: juxtaposition.

In last week’s post, we looked at the aesthetic beauty of Japanese Architecture through the eyes of a photographer who saw the future of Architecture through filters and neon colors.

This week’s article doesn’t particularly focus on the aesthetics of this modular building, which was built over 50 years ago in an architectural era known for Brutalist Architecture, by an Israeli/Canadian Architect Moshe Safdie.

Another factoid to compare and contrast these two similar buildings, is that while they both feature capsule like homes, they were built within a few years of each other, and yet, they are both apart of different architectural movements. They both are landmarks, and are historical pieces of art, yet, they’re end result is so starkly opposite.

Revisited Habitat 67 by James Brittain
Habitat 67 via Dezeen, photographed by James Brittain

Rather than focus on the architectural details of Habitat 67, Brittain aspired to look at a well loved and lived in building. Those kinds of feelings evoke warm feelings of love and home. He stayed at Habitat 67 for a year, taking portraits of those that lived in the building.

“My interest for the photography … [is] in how the place is lived in, has been adapted, and is experienced by the residents,” Brittain told Dezeen.

Which again brings me back to last week’s post. Last week I lamented at the deterioration of an architectural gemstone, and very few people are making an effort to keep it standing. Do any people live in the Nakagin capsules? I haven’t seen any updates on the forefront of saving the building, but I do see that you’re able to rent a room at the capsule tower via AirBnb. But is it enough to keep it alive? I see plans for demolition, and honestly hope that never happens.

Maybe the Nakagin capsules had just a little too ahead of it’s time. It’s sleek design and interchangeable parts were things that are just more viable in a more modern setting, now that we have a “tiny house” movement occurring in this day and age. People are just now trying to adapt to a life of minimalism. On that note, capsule living in Japan is now more marketable and enticing with the modernized capsule hotels. With technology and capsule hotels becoming a thing, it’s easy to see how something as futuristic as Nakagin quickly became something of the past.

So, when I look at Habitat 67, I’m glad that it hasn’t been abandoned. That it’s actually lived in years after its initial fabrication. It hasn’t slid to the back of the line of deteriorating architectural history. But what is it about Habitat 67 that made it more successful than the Nakagin capsules?

While both put up solutions to high-density housing. Theres a stark difference between them. I think that the difference lies in the difference in “program”/ utilization of space. Nakagin seems to isolate an inhabitant to their capsule. The capsule’s were designed for the typical bachelor Tokyo Salaryman, that only needs the necessities: a room and a bed, a small kitchen and a lavatory sized bathroom. The capsules are compact, and honestly reflective of how it is to live in a compacted city like Tokyo. It has a sterile-like vibe to it. It’s all about the technology behind it than it is about the living in it.

Habitat 67, not only offers a solution to high-density housing. It does that and more. It adds a more human element to its design. Safdie had wanted to bring the positives of suburban living into a city environment: outdoor gardens, and natural light, while offering privacy by way of multi-leveled living.

A lot can be said about the kind of architecture Habitat 67 offers; but the biggest takeaway was that it was meant to be lived in, it was meant to be homey. It’s not a foreign compacted object that’s so alienating that people are afraid of it.


What do you think of Safdie’s Habitat 67? Have you seen it in person? Heard about it in any way, shape or form? Interested in more Bruatlist Architecture? I looked at some examples of Brutalism found in the anime No. 6.  Let me know what you think in the comments below!