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Moshe Safdie, one of the world’s most acclaimed and influential architects, gifts his archive to McGill

Safdie’s donation to his alma mater features never-before-seen materials from more than 300 projects, including the thesis that inspired the iconic Habitat 67

Moshe Safdie

Moshe Safdie, the renowned architect behind some of the world’s most celebrated buildings, has donated his professional archive to his alma mater, McGill University, and pledged his personal apartment at Habitat 67 to ensure that it remains a resource for the University and the public at large.

Consisting of over 100,000 pieces, including loose sketches, sketchbooks, models, drawings and correspondence related to unbuilt and built projects across the globe, Safdie’s collection represents one of the most extensive and thorough individual collections of architectural documentation in Canada. Included is the original model and master copy of his McGill undergraduate thesis, ‘A Case for City Living’, which inspired his design for the Habitat 67 residence – a major exhibition built for Expo 67 in Montreal, and a turning point in modern architecture.

The centerpiece of the archive will be Safdie’s personal apartment at the iconic Habitat 67 housing complex. The four-module duplex unit will serve as a resource for scholarly research, artist-in-residence programs, exhibitions, and symposia, thereby expanding the impact of the collection. Fondation Habitat 67, a non-profit foundation, will collaborate with McGill on the preservation and maintenance of the apartment as part of its mandate to promote the property for public educational activities.

Habitat 67 was designated a National Heritage Building by the Quebec Ministry of Culture in 2009. Safdie’s 10th floor unit, which initially belonged to the Commissioner of Expo 67, was fully restored to its original condition in 2017 to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Habitat 67, and in conjunction with a major exhibition of Safdie Architects’ recent work at UQAM, entitled Habitat 67 vers l’avenir: The Shape of Things to Come.

“On behalf of the McGill community, I would like to express our gratitude to Moshe Safdie for his remarkable gift,” said McGill Principal Suzanne Fortier. “This is a historic moment for McGill. One of the most influential and important architectural archives in the world, from one of our most celebrated graduates, will forever be a part of our University.”

Moshe Safdie noted, “I have always valued the great education I received at McGill that has guided me through my professional life. Moreover, Canada has embraced and supported me, making possible the realization of several seminal projects. It is therefore fitting that McGill, Quebec, and Canada will be the home of my life’s work.”

Gift will inspire the next generation

“Safdie’s gift of his extensive archive positions the McGill Library as a serious player among the world’s great architecture collections,” said C. Colleen Cook, McGill’s Trenholme Dean of Libraries. “This gift will deepen the Library’s collaboration with the University’s teaching and research programs, particularly at the Peter Guo-hua Fu School of Architecture. Student engagement with primary material will inspire fresh examination, perspectives, and discussion relevant to course themes.” 

Accompanied by extensive personal correspondence, textual and audio-visual material, the archive offers multiple opportunities for students, researchers, and architects to investigate both the building projects of Moshe Safdie, and the humanistic underpinnings behind his philosophy and approach. Archived within McGill’s John Bland Canadian Architecture Collection, Safdie’s works will be the largest of the Collection’s nearly 100 fonds, with 5,000 square feet of storage space dedicated to house it. 

Collection will open the door for exploration 

“From virtual public lectures to interactive exhibits, Safdie’s holdings, including his apartment at Habitat 67, will provide the McGill community and scholars the world over with an abundance of opportunity for exploration,” said Dean Cook. “The original materials in the collection tell the story of Moshe Safdie’s professional practice and student works. We especially value the stories that reside in our collections, and we look forward to discovering and sharing Safdie’s story with future generations.”

Watch this short video about Moshe Safdie’s remarkable career.

About Moshe Safdie

Over a career spanning 50 years, Moshe Safdie (B.Arch’61, LL.D’82) has explored the essential principles of socially responsible design through a comprehensive and humane design philosophy. An architect, urban planner, educator, and author, his wide range of completed projects can be found in North and South America, the Middle East and throughout Asia. These include cultural, educational, and civic institutions; neighbourhoods and public parks; housing; mixed-use urban centres and airports; and master plans for existing communities and entirely new cities. 

Major Canadian projects include the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa; the Musée de la civilization in Quebec City; the Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; the John G. Diefenbaker Building in Ottawa, known as Old City Hall; Vancouver Library Square; and the Lester B. Pearson International Airport–Terminal One in Toronto. His notable international works include the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem, the United States Institute of Peace on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands Resort and Jewel Changi Airport.

Safdie is the recipient of numerous awards, honorary degrees, and civil honours, including the Gold Medal from both the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada and the American Institute of Architects, la Médaille du Mérite from the Ordre des architectes du Québec, the National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian, and the Wolf Prize in Architecture.

About the Moshe Safdie Archive

Safdie’s archive was first initiated in 1992 by John Bland, who was the Director of the McGill School of Architecture during Safdie’s student years; it became public in 1996 under the direction of Dr. Irena Murray, then Chief Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections. The archive documents the progression of Safdie’s career from his first unpublished university papers and projects through more than 50 years of architectural practice.

Philanthropic gifts, like the donation of the Safdie Archive, contribute to Made by McGill: the Campaign for Our Third Century, the University’s ambitious $2-billion fundraising campaign to support its bold aspirations for research, discovery and learning.