Safdie discusses artistic elements of architecture
Published: Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 12:12
As part of the 10th Margaret Henderson Floyd Memorial Lecture, the Department of Art and Art History and the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning last night hosted internationally renowned architect Moshe Safdie. Safdie’s lecture, entitled “Humanizing Megascale,” touched on the issues of maintaining the human and artistic aspects of architecture in a world of heavily urbanized metropolises.
Safdie is an Israeli-Canadian urban architect and designer known for his work on the famous Habitat 67, a structure of 354 identical prefabricated concrete blocks arranged in complex ways and designed to retain density for the growing population.
Part of Safdie’s master’s thesis at McGill University, Habitat 67 is still considered ingenious today, he said. However, the project — which was presented at the World’s Fair in Montreal — failed to see actual production due to what Safdie called “economic realties that surround us.”
Expanding on his first project, Safdie began the lecture by discussing the challenges of modern-day architecture.
The problem today is the extraordinary transformation of cities which has complicated the lives of urban dwellers, he said. Safdie’s central criterion in designing his creations was his idea of the ethic of architecture.
“I think there exists the ethic of architecture,” Safdie said. “Some of its components are social art. It has a purpose. You build things for the intention of life in it, whether it’s a school, hospital or a civilian house. The purpose [of these buildings] is to resonate with the life indented in them, and this becomes their measure of success. If it is obvious to its program, then it is due for a short life.”
As Safdie discussed his works — from the titanic Marina Bay Sands resort in Singapore to the Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem in Israel — he brought the focus back to the question of whether architecture can merge into a place and evolve with it.
Safdie said that architecture is material rather than imagery, adding that it is about tectonics and construction.
“Architecture is about experiencing space with material,” he said. “And this materiality becomes the language of architecture.”
Safdie pointed out that, more than the hilltops of Italy or the simple desert village in Iran, his main architectural inspirations arose from studying design and nature together. His main goal is to integrate the materials with the space given around it.
He then presented a slide of an x-ray of a dove’s wing, explaining that the extraordinary lattice of the wing allows for minimum weight and maximum strength. Safdie said that the interplay between nature’s ruthless selection and the beauty it creates captures his fascination with future architecture.
“The space frame of the dove’s wing, which evolved through fitness and natural selection, is exquisite,” Safdie said. “Just imagine, architecture that can seasonably transform as plant life [does]. There is extraordinary potential for architecture to be much more responsive and these thoughts are extremely exciting to me in terms of their appreciation of the connection between fitness and beauty. That connection between fitness and beauty seems to me the final analysis and profound question in architecture.”