| by Kenneth Chase | 78 comments

Moshe Safdie: How to reinvent the apartment building

When, in 1960, still a student, I got a traveling fellowship to study housing in North America. We traveled the country. We saw public housing high-rise buildings in all major cities: New York, Philadelphia. Those who have no choice lived there. And then we traveled from suburb to suburb, and I came back thinking, we’ve got to reinvent the apartment building. There has to be another way of doing this. We can’t sustain suburbs, so let’s design a building which gives the qualities of a house to each unit. Habitat would be all about gardens, contact with nature, streets instead of corridors. We prefabricated it so we would achieve economy, and there it is almost 50 years later. It’s a very desirable place to live in. It’s now a heritage building, but it did not proliferate. In 1973, I made my first trip to China. It was the Cultural Revolution. We traveled the country, met with architects and planners. This is Beijing then, not a single high rise building in Beijing or Shanghai. Shenzhen didn’t even exist as a city. There were hardly any cars. Thirty years later, this is Beijing today. This is Hong Kong. If you’re wealthy, you live there, if you’re poor, you live there, but high density it is, and it’s not just Asia. São Paulo, you can travel in a helicopter 45 minutes seeing those high-rise buildings consume the 19th-century low-rise environment. And with it, comes congestion, and we lose mobility, and so on and so forth. So a few years ago, we decided to go back and rethink Habitat. Could we make it more affordable? Could we actually achieve this quality of life in the densities that are prevailing today? And we realized, it’s basically about light, it’s about sun, it’s about nature, it’s about fractalization. Can we open up the surface of the building so that it has more contact with the exterior? We came up with a number of models: economy models, cheaper to build and more compact; membranes of housing where people could design their own house and create their own gardens. And then we decided to take New York as a test case, and we looked at Lower Manhattan. And we mapped all the building area in Manhattan. On the left is Manhattan today: blue for housing, red for office buildings, retail. On the right, we reconfigured it: the office buildings form the base, and then rising 75 stories above, are apartments. There’s a street in the air on the 25th level, a community street. It’s permeable. There are gardens and open spaces for the community, almost every unit with its own private garden, and community space all around. And most important, permeable, open. It does not form a wall or an obstruction in the city, and light permeates everywhere. And in the last two or three years, we’ve actually been, for the first time, realizing the quality of life of Habitat in real-life projects across Asia. This in Qinhuangdao in China: middle-income housing, where there is a bylaw that every apartment must receive three hours of sunlight. That’s measured in the winter solstice. And under construction in Singapore, again middle-income housing, gardens, community streets and parks and so on and so forth. And Colombo. And I want to touch on one more issue, which is the design of the public realm. A hundred years after we’ve begun building with tall buildings, we are yet to understand how the tall high-rise building becomes a building block in making a city, in creating the public realm. In Singapore, we had an opportunity: 10 million square feet, extremely high density. Taking the concept of outdoor and indoor, promenades and parks integrated with intense urban life. So they are outdoor spaces and indoor spaces, and you move from one to the other, and there is contact with nature, and most relevantly, at every level of the structure, public gardens and open space: on the roof of the podium, climbing up the towers, and finally on the roof, the sky park, two and a half acres, jogging paths, restaurants, and the world’s longest swimming pool. And that’s all I can tell you in five minutes. Thank you. (Applause)


Keith Cheok

Sep 9, 2014, 5:45 pm Reply

I live in Singapore and I see that building everyday as I travel to school, its beautiful but expensive to get a unit there.


Sep 9, 2014, 5:55 pm Reply



Sep 9, 2014, 6:04 pm Reply

Thats awesome, but i think i wount be alive to see this, this will be amazing.  

Greg Sherman

Sep 9, 2014, 6:09 pm Reply

Why'd he show a picture of Kowloon Walled City (1:58) as an example of China "now", when it was torn down in 1994?


Sep 9, 2014, 6:11 pm Reply

That looks like a fall risk. How do you make an open environment so high in the air?

Venkatesh Das

Sep 9, 2014, 6:17 pm Reply

One of the coolest talks unexpectedly from an old man.. He really showered the nxt biggest revolution on our daily living architecture .

Hats off to his thinking.

Venkatesh Das

Sep 9, 2014, 6:17 pm Reply

One of the coolest talks unexpectedly from an old man.. He really showered the nxt biggest revolution on our daily living architecture .

Hats off to his thinking.


Sep 9, 2014, 6:20 pm Reply

Proliferate, god damn it.


Sep 9, 2014, 6:20 pm Reply

i'd love to live in that kind of place! looks cool


Sep 9, 2014, 6:21 pm Reply

As a scientist and engineer I can't help but think these things are kind of cool, but I can also see a bit of arrogance in pushing nature to its limits to serve man when in most cases these kinds of engineering are not really needed.  Technology becomes its own excuse, and we all know that the real driver of technology is at the heart of things, war.


Sep 9, 2014, 6:22 pm Reply

0:49 – "So, Let's design a building …"

How about let's reduce how many people there are on the Earth.


Sep 9, 2014, 6:27 pm Reply

Building in New York City seems problematic.  We all know what New York is today, it's like a machine that sucks up a lot of power.  It may efficiently use that power to support lots of people, but that density of people that just keeps on growing without any check is just a kind of cancer.  The thing that throws us is that there is no organism to which this cancer attacks, no living entity, we, pre-empt the living entity that could exist on Earth that could manage it successfully by being ourselves and thinking of nothing else.

Radu Constantin

Sep 9, 2014, 6:29 pm Reply

One word.Earthquake

Ham ster

Sep 9, 2014, 6:30 pm Reply

That is scary high

Dark Day Ministries

Sep 9, 2014, 6:42 pm Reply

They give this guy 5 minutes but the nth guy who wants to moan about global warming and offer no solutions…?


Sep 9, 2014, 6:45 pm Reply

As soon as I saw his design – GTFO! Those things are UGLY.

Me. Jingles

Sep 9, 2014, 6:53 pm Reply

I can't help but think… Agenda 21,as beautiful as this looks and seems.


Sep 9, 2014, 7:04 pm Reply

normally people don't want to jump off their 20 story balcony mate.. and if they do it helps the density problem


Sep 9, 2014, 7:29 pm Reply

That isn't the longest pool in the world.


Sep 9, 2014, 7:45 pm Reply

Those buildings are frankly beautiful. Large complexes with layers and outdoor platforms, not just rooms packed in a block. 


Sep 9, 2014, 8:02 pm Reply

Not informative.

David Quintana

Sep 9, 2014, 8:54 pm Reply

Bring it to Seattle WA.  The city is having a hard time dealing with density problems but is early enough that there are economical feasible ways to build something like this.  They could develop 100 city blocks of East Lake into one of this projects.  It could double the amount of living spaces for the city, it would provide lake front properties and a brand new commercial zone. Just build from Leschi Park to Colman Park and build on top of the I-90.  With the train station serving that area and a renovation of the I-90 this could become a solution for Seattle. 


Sep 9, 2014, 9:12 pm Reply

we should pay attention to what he is offering.

Lesbian Cuttlefish

Sep 9, 2014, 9:21 pm Reply


Marie D. Henry

Sep 9, 2014, 9:54 pm Reply

Saw that one in Montreal in 1967. Apartment is the worse place to live. People was not meant to be closed in or packed together like  a snow ball. 


Sep 9, 2014, 10:05 pm Reply

I love the concept of open air apartment living and over 3hrs of sunlight measured during the winter solstice! Please build more!

Adrian M

Sep 9, 2014, 11:03 pm Reply

This is good but cities need to be easily expandable. I get the feeling that building onto this thing might be bit difficult

Curt Howland

Sep 9, 2014, 11:37 pm Reply

"We can't sustain suburbs"

That is false.

Curt Howland

Sep 9, 2014, 11:39 pm Reply

Losing mobility is the entire point of the high-density religion. They don't want peopel to move distances, they want people to be close to everything they do.


Sep 9, 2014, 11:39 pm Reply

Imagine having a party though… Soo many neighbors to warn… not to mention satisfy with sound levels etc… No thanks i prefer living in a solitary house 🙂 Here i can't bother anyone ^^

Curt Howland

Sep 9, 2014, 11:40 pm Reply

The problem is that central planning doesn't work. He cannot create a city that will work, because his idea isn't what other people want. It can only grow organically.


Sep 9, 2014, 12:03 am Reply

Sadly, I would argue that Safdie still doesn't under stand the urban experience. They are just very big suburban constructions. 


Sep 9, 2014, 12:12 am Reply

Now that is some swimming pool!

Hyena Edits

Sep 9, 2014, 12:20 am Reply

If those buildings become a thing I might rethink my hatred of cities.


Sep 9, 2014, 1:46 am Reply

Awesome and optimized, but not natural. We need to just spread the people out, there is no need to do this yet aren't even a type 1 civilization.


Sep 9, 2014, 7:09 am Reply

Brilliant idea, love the contact with nature part.
But the buildings, in my opinion, are extremely ugly.


Sep 9, 2014, 11:21 am Reply

I think it would be very inspiring, at the very least less depressing, to live in such buildings.

That they can be affordable as 'middle income housing', amazing.

Morph Verse

Sep 9, 2014, 3:35 pm Reply

Yes, this is what the entire world needs, better creative ideas to improve on mistakes and repetitiveness and costs.

But it comes with a lot of baggage and probably economical reasons too since there is no way to build these complexes fast enough..

And managing apartments in new ways also requires to re manage the entire city.


Sep 9, 2014, 4:07 pm Reply

That was beautiful!


Sep 9, 2014, 5:31 pm Reply

There is no way we can reduce the amount of people in this world. I have 3 children myself and no one is going to stop me from having more. I love his concept of making every apartment building very unique in design. I would love to live at one of those places.

Alex Eržen

Sep 9, 2014, 6:11 pm Reply

I wish this was longer, I'd love to hear more about it.


Sep 9, 2014, 7:06 pm Reply

This isn't going to help many people in NYC. Housing for people in the middle class is already a financial stretch. These kinds of apartment buildings will only be accessible for the wealthy (who already have decadent apartments).


Sep 9, 2014, 7:46 pm Reply

seems a bit gay and naive. putting a few plants here and there only creates an illusion of eco-friendliness or sustainability.


Sep 9, 2014, 11:10 pm Reply

I want to see some more angles of that pool. No way could I live in that.

Chris Connor

Sep 9, 2014, 5:09 am Reply

so dope

Nam Gyu Ho

Sep 9, 2014, 10:09 am Reply

Half the students in a nearby school would live in the same building lol


Sep 9, 2014, 10:12 am Reply



Sep 9, 2014, 11:55 am Reply

That condominium in Singapore? Not affordable. Even though it counts as middle-income housing, buyers are mostly higher middle-income earners.


Sep 9, 2014, 1:21 pm Reply

Earthquake +  long pool on the roof = surfing


Sep 9, 2014, 3:15 pm Reply

Great stuff. Sunlight and open space have great influences on our well being. Housing should be designed in a way to incorporate the necessary elements of nature, instead of being seen as a barrier to protect us from it. 

Paris McDonald

Sep 9, 2014, 8:15 pm Reply

I live in Singapore with that giant building at the end of the video with the longest pool and all the life and its a hotel, not a living place.


Sep 9, 2014, 12:30 am Reply

I live in Montreal and the habitat 67 is an example of non practical housing. Everyone who lives there does so because of name, but heating of the units is comparable to a house in the country with none of the benefits of a fireplace. Also neighbors are so close and can overlook your property that there is no privacy from several angles. Also this unit was poorly placed as it not close to anything. This is what not to do as a heritage site that can't be destroyed like the Olympic stadium which has parts of the roof collapsing every so many years.

Jesse W

Sep 9, 2014, 2:38 am Reply

He failed to mention the extremely high cost of his idea of economic housing, which is why 67 did not "proliferate". Low-end rent costs are almost $3,000 a month, high end buyouts are almost $2mil. He may (or may not) mean well with his intentions, but time has shown that his residential projects are only meant for the wealthy.


Sep 9, 2014, 8:18 am Reply



Sep 9, 2014, 2:22 pm Reply

Build that stuff in Manhattan now!


Sep 9, 2014, 3:39 pm Reply

"This is Hong Kong, if you're wealthy you live there….."
I'm pretty sure those were cheap government built housing.

"If you're poor you live there"
Then he shows private housing that are worth more money. SMH


Sep 9, 2014, 11:10 am Reply

come youtube firsyly,cann't understand it.


Sep 9, 2014, 10:52 pm Reply

Good ideas and everything, but horrible blocky designs.


Oct 10, 2014, 7:25 am Reply

I'd love a building like this is Melbourne. Is there a purpose for the white design? Instead of a natural wood finish.

Matt Steadman

Oct 10, 2014, 7:23 pm Reply

Looks like something someone would make in MineCraft.


Oct 10, 2014, 9:06 pm Reply

They really need to let these speakers talk for a time more appropriate to what they have to say. 

Connor Amlee

Oct 10, 2014, 7:01 pm Reply

I think a lot f the problem lies in building with straight lines and ninety degree angles and blocky structures. There was an experiment where test subject were asked questions that would test their logical thinking and the participants would draw straight lines or curvy lines wen drawing straight lines, the participants were less creative, less spontaneous, and thought more objectively about the questions. The people sketching curvy lines were more creative, thinking outside the box, giving answers that were very abstract. They concluded that it was more creatively stimulating to draw rounded shapes than straight lines.
To make designing buildings more creative and solve problems of living more forward thinking, buildings should be designed with curves, blended components, and irregular shapes; not cubes, lines, and flat planes.


Oct 10, 2014, 7:51 am Reply

How could those buildings possibly be middle income housing. Plop one down in a Australia and the realtors will make it luxury housing.


Oct 10, 2014, 10:41 pm Reply

there's buildings like this in Jerusalem 


Oct 10, 2014, 10:22 am Reply


Andres Angulo

Oct 10, 2014, 7:41 pm Reply

the thing is that he is only doing what a fabelas, or informal housing, have been doing for almost a decade, I can see a lot af problems like a desconection between the public espace of the city and his project, like makind an island. and that is not a solution

Howard Koor

Oct 10, 2014, 4:21 pm Reply

Very progressive thinker.

Ryuya Sekido

Oct 10, 2014, 8:21 pm Reply

This is amazing

Serdar Dogan

Nov 11, 2014, 8:22 pm Reply

i think after ww3 maybe this ll be happen

Artstrada Magazine

Nov 11, 2014, 2:51 am Reply

Something that can change the course of human self destruction and that can be done today. 

White House Properties, LLC

Nov 11, 2014, 12:20 pm Reply

Are there any cost considerations?

Genius by Design

May 5, 2015, 3:20 pm Reply

… just 3x more expensive. Idiot or DISINGENUOUS. My opinion.


Jul 7, 2015, 2:36 pm Reply

I kept thinking Peach Trees from the movie Dredd

wem uk

May 5, 2016, 7:23 am Reply

Has anyone seen the spy film Kingsman? With Colin Firth, Samuel Jackson & Michael Caine in action? It was about 'controlling' population. The point is, even someone as powerful as Putin cannot stop everyone from having more than 2 kids. What we cannot do, we cannot moan. Now here's a guy showing us, 1 thing we can do, to accommodate today's population density in the here & now & maybe for tomorrow. Absolutely brilliant idea. Go for it. Proliferate, please proliferate.


Nov 11, 2017, 11:30 pm Reply

I´m not sure..to me this looks like Le Corbusier´s Paris Plan 2.0


May 5, 2018, 7:58 am Reply



Mar 3, 2019, 3:02 pm Reply

unique design

Stacy M

Apr 4, 2019, 4:07 am Reply

We're investing in one of his units..Montreal the Habitat 67 has a waiting list STILL in 2019!

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