Apr 272019
 

The 1967 International and Universal Exposition, or Expo 67, as it was commonly known, a general exhibition, Category One World’s Fair held in Montreal, opened on this date (in 1967!!!). It is considered to be the most successful World’s Fair of the 20th century with the most attendees to that date and 62 nations participating. It also set the single-day attendance record for a world’s fair, with 569,500 visitors on its 3rd day. Expo 67 was Canada’s main celebration during its centennial year. The fair had been intended to be held in Moscow, to help the Soviet Union celebrate the Russian Revolution’s 50th anniversary. However, for various reasons, the Soviets decided to cancel, and Canada was awarded it in late 1962. The project was not well supported in Canada at first. It took the determination of Montreal’s mayor, Jean Drapeau, and a new team of managers to guide it past political, physical and temporal hurdles. Defying a computer analysis that said it could not be done, the fair opened on time.

After Expo 67 ended in October 1967, the site and most of the pavilions continued on as an exhibition called Man and His World, open during the summer months from 1968 until 1984. By that time, most of the buildings—which had not been designed to last beyond the original exhibition—had deteriorated and were dismantled. Today, the islands that hosted the world exhibition are mainly used as parkland and for recreational use, with only a few remaining structures from Expo 67 to show that the event was held there.  Habitat 67, a model showpiece of what urban apartments of the future might look like, was iconic of Expo 67 – more than any other structure – and still serves as condominiums, although not quite as intended. I was suitably impressed to arrive by ship in Montreal in 1975 as an immigrant to North America, and to be greeted by Habitat 67 at the dock on the way.  It felt like a small omen of what to expect in this New World.

Habitat 67, or simply Habitat, was designed by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie, originally conceived as his master’s thesis in architecture at McGill University before actually being built as a pavilion for Expo 67. It is still located at 2600 Avenue Pierre-Dupuy on the Marc-Drouin Quay next to the Saint Lawrence River. Habitat 67 is widely considered an architectural landmark and one of the most recognizable and spectacular buildings in both Montreal and Canada. Safdie was given the blessing of the Expo 67 Director of Installations, Edward Churchill, to work on the building project as an independent architect in spite of his relative youth and inexperience. The development was financed by the federal government, but is now owned by its tenants, who formed a limited partnership that purchased the building from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation in 1985. Safdie still owns a penthouse apartment in the building.

Habitat 67’s interlocking forms, connected walkways and landscaped terraces were key in achieving Safdie’s goal of a private and natural environment within the limits of a dense urban space. Habitat 67 comprises 354 identical, prefabricated concrete forms arranged in various combinations, reaching up to 12 storeys in height. Together these units create 146 residences of varying sizes and configurations, each formed from one to eight linked concrete units. The complex originally contained 158 apartments, but several apartments have since been joined to create larger units, reducing the total number. Each unit is connected to at least one private terrace, which can range from approximately 20 to 90 square meters (225 to 1,000 sq ft) in size.

The development was designed to integrate the benefits of suburban homes—namely gardens, fresh air, privacy, and multi-levelled environments—with the economics and density of a modern urban apartment building. It was believed to illustrate the new lifestyle people would increasingly embrace in crowded cities around the world. Safdie’s goal for the project to be affordable housing largely failed (and demand for the building’s units has made them more expensive than originally envisioned). In addition, the existing structure was originally meant to be only the first phase of a much larger complex, but the high per-unit cost of approximately C$140,000 (C$22,120,000 for all 158) prevented that possibility.

As one of the major symbols of Expo 67, which was attended by over 50 million people during the 6 months it was open, Habitat 67 gained worldwide acclaim as a “fantastic experiment” and “architectural wonder”. This experiment was and is regarded as both a success and failure—it redefined urban living and has since become a very successful co-op, but at the same time ultimately failed to revolutionize affordable housing or launch a wave of prefabricated, modular development as Safdie had envisioned. Even now, 50 years after Habitat, much of Safdie’s work still holds to the concepts that were so fundamental to its design, especially the themes of reimagining high-density housing and improving social integration through architecture.

Pâté chinois is French Canadian comfort food that you can find throughout Montreal. It is similar to English cottage pie or French hachis Parmentier. The dish is made with layered ground beef (mixed with sautéed diced onions) on the bottom layer, canned corn (either whole-kernel, creamed, or a mix) for the middle layer, and mashed potatoes on top. Seasonings, including cheese may be added to the top. Variations may include reversing the layering of ingredients with potatoes at the bottom, then meat, topped with cream corn; adding diced bell peppers to the ground beef; or serving the dish with pickled eggs or beets. This description should be sufficient, but here’s a video if you need more hand holding: