In Cubes Indesign issue 75, we presented the matrix of apartments, terraces, balconies, gardens and bridges that is Sky Habitat. Here Narelle Yabuka documents the comments of its lead designer Moshe Safdie.
24 August, 2015
Top image: Moshe Safdie. Photo by Narelle Yabuka
In late July, Moshe Safdie led the media on a tour of the recently completed condominium project Sky Habitat in Bishan, which was designed by his office Safdie Architects in collaboration with DCA Architects. It was the latest in many visits by Safdie to the site; he visited it, on average, every month during construction.
Cubes Indesign joined the tour (organised by CapitaLand) – the perfect opportunity to hear firsthand how the architect translated the utopian vision of his famous Habitat 67 project in Montreal (completed in 1967) to the context of high-density Singapore.
On homes and community at Habitat 67:
At Habitat 67 in Montreal, we tried to make the apartments as much like houses as we could… The underlying idea is the fractalising of the surface of the building to create many opportunities for outdoor living as well as indoor living.
One of the things we learned from the Montreal project, which is now almost 50 years old, is that while it proved to be extremely desirable for individual families, it also really emerged as a community. I still have an apartment there. It has the longest tenancy of any building in Canada. There are second generation and now third generation people living in it, and there’s a real attachment to the place.
On encouraging community life:
What I wanted to create here [at Sky Habitat] was the infrastructure for community life. You can’t force community life, but you can create the setting for it. The ground floor is completely developed with swimming pools, gardens and tennis courts. Then through three levels you’ve got playgrounds, parks and swimming pools, as well as services and gyms. I call that community infrastructure. When you offer that, you find that the life in the building becomes completely different.
On roof gardens:
I think the difference between a balcony and a roof garden is that you can furnish [the latter]. It’s like an outdoor living room. The terraces here [at Sky Habitat] are big enough to be living spaces. We’re planting them; the trees will be installed now, and hopefully taken care of by the residents. Our experience is that people really make these spaces their own. For example, if they want privacy, they’ll plant some trees. In Montreal, people plant tomatoes and herbs on their terraces.
On the development of form:
Many housing projects these days are very sculptural and adventurous in form. But Sky Habitat was not designed as a pre-conceived shape. It was designed out of ideas about quality of life and lifestyle. The buildings incline because they create gardens. There are two of them because that way we maximise their exposure to the view. Out of that comes this shifted pyramid. The bridges make it extremely three-dimensional…
I do believe passionately that architectural forms grow from within – from the organisation and the spatial requirements of the building. I think in the next decades we’re going to see a revolution in residential high-rise construction. I hope this building becomes a prototype for what is possible.
On consistency of design principles:
These principles of what I believed in 50 years ago – about what constitutes good housing and good community – have not changed at all. They’re constant. I believe in outdoor space and indoor space. I believe in gardens. I believe in buildings that connect with nature. That hasn’t changed. All that evolves is different ways of achieving it. The particular response is more site specific and culture specific. But the principles generated are absolutely constant. I have not seen any evidence of why I should change them.
On translating the ideas of Habitat 67 to high-rise:
The ’70s were regressive times in housing. People withdrew from anything adventurous and we had recessions. In the ’70s we were designing a number of projects that had the attributes of Habitat 67 but didn’t get built. What I’ve observed in the last decade is a major transformation in terms of the ambitions about high-density urban housing. When we designed Habitat 67, we had no idea what densities were to come.
We developed some prototypes – first theoretically in a research division of our office – that explored this kind of density with those attributes. And I think this project is the first one to implement some of the lessons we learned. What I’m proud of here is that it’s not a downtown ‘on the bay’ site. It’s not super luxury housing. This is upper-middle housing, and it’s inland, and that is particularly gratifying – that it’s open to a much wider range of the population.
Photography by Edward Hendricks unless otherwise stated.
Sky Habitat was developed by CapitaLand Limited, Mitsubishi Estate Asia Pte Ltd and Shimizu Investment (Asia) Pte Ltd
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