Highlights from 'Global Citizen'

Insight, 11. January 2016
By: John Hill

All photographs by John Hill/World-Architects

On Sunday, the exhibition Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie, closed at the National Academy Museum in New York. World-Architects eMagazine Editor in Chief John Hill visited the exhibition on the 2015 AIA Gold Medal winner and filed this report.


Although Safdie certainly earned the right to a monographic exhibition with the AIA Gold Medal last year, Global Citizen actually began its run five years beforehand, at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario, a building designed by the architect. Curated by Donald Albrecht, and featuring an exhibition design by Nader Tehrani of NADAAAGlobal Citizen subsequently traveled to two other Safdie buildings – the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas – before its arrival in Manhattan. Don't fret if you missed it: the final leg of the traveling exhibition opens next month at the BSA Space in Boston.

The aptly named exhibition traces the prolific career of the architect born in Israel, educated in Canada, and now based in Boston. The organization of the exhibition follows this geographical path: starting with his famous Habitat 67 in Montreal and subsequent attempts to realize modular multi-family housing, followed by some impressive work in Israel, and then returning to North America to realize primarily institutional buildings in Canada and the United States. The exhibition culminates in the large-scale, international work his firm is undertaking in parts of Asia; these residential, hospitality and transportation projects can be seen as coming full circle back to the ambition and scale of his project realized for Expo 67, but in a much different global context.

The most impressive aspect of Global Citizen – something that should come across in my photos of the exhibition – are the large models that are used to explain the projects. Accompanied by drawings and photographs (the latter sometimes large and immersive next to the models), the models convey the formal complexity of Safdie's buildings, but also their spatial qualities, indicating how he considers the buildings' habitation as much as their appearance.

Below are highlights from my visit to see Global Citizen at the National Academy Museum; click any of the photographs to launch a slideshow (recommended).


Moshe Safdie's career began with the realization of a version of his 1961 McGill University thesis project as part of the Expo 67 in Montreal. Habitat 67 is a project he will always be known for, so fittingly it is found at the start of the exhibition on the ground floor.

Much of 'Global Citizen' is on the two floors above, and marking the transition is the in-progress Bishan Residential Development for Singapore, a model of which is found in the grand circular stairway leading upstairs. The project is indicative of Safdie's large-scale residential projects underway in Asia.

The National Academy Museum is located inside an old house on Fifth Avenue one block north of the Guggenheim. Even though the rooms are fairly small – making the exhibition one of maze-like exploration – the models, photos and drawings fit well. Here are two views of the second-floor gallery filled with Habitats, both built and unbuilt.

Safdie tried to realize a few Habitats following the success of his contribution to Expo 67, but they remained unbuilt. They also served as lessons that would be introduced into projects decades later. These included Habitat Israel in Jerusalem (left) and the partially realized Habitat Puerto Rico in San Juan (right), as well as two schemes for Manhattan.

Safdie placed second behind Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers in the 1971 Centre Pompidou competition in Paris. If he would have won, the building would cover the sunken plaza instead of being next to it.

Not able to realize any post-67 Habitats, Safdie opened an office in Israel to work on a number of large-scale projects. One of them that wasn't built, but which is nevertheless impressive, is the Western Wall Precinct in Jerusalem, which would have transformed the holy site into a series of terraced piazzas.

One of the projects that was built was the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem (1976-1998). Safdie designed the campus in the tradition of Mediterranean courtyard clusters, such that the various buildings are knit together by interconnected outdoor spaces.

One of Safdie's most impressive and poetic buildings is the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem (1997-2005). It marks a line in the landscape as a triangular concrete tunnel that opens to a panoramic view over Israel.

Over time the scale of Safdie's projects has continually increased, including the Khasla Heritage Centre in Anandpur Sahib, India (1998-2011), which celebrates 500 years of Sikh history and the 300th anniversary of Khasla. Although sizable, the project is broken down into smaller volumes on either side of a ravine that are connected by a bridge.

One room is devoted to the megascaled projects designed for parts of Asia and the Middle East. One of the largest, Golden Dream Bay in Qinhuangdao, China, is actually under construction as can be seen in the photo at left behind the model.

At the farthest remove from the entrance is a gallery on the fourth floor with relatively small-scale buildings in the United States, including the Salt Lake City Public Library in Utah and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas.

One of the most interesting Safdie projects underway is the torus-shaped, mixed-used complex at Singapore's Changi Airport. When complete in 2018, it will have shops, restaurants, a hotel and an aviation museum, as well as, most notably, a terraced garden and waterfall at its center.

"Conceived as an inclusive alternative to the city's more exclusive Mormon institutions," per the wall text, the Salt Lake City Public Library (1999-2003) features the requisite library functions (stacks, reading rooms, study carrels) as well as shops, restaurants, a plaza and rooftop gardens: it is a true civic space rendered in glass and curves.

Safdie's Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (2005-2011), designed for Walmart heiress Alice Walton, can best be described as controversial (financially, architecturally and artistically), but I haven't seen a better argument for its architectural merits than the large model that shows the numerous pavilions nestled into the Ozark landscape.


New York CityMoshe SafdieExhibitionNational-Academy-Museum