A Few Words From a Legend A Few Words From a Legend

A Few Words From a Legend

by Alexandra Spunt

February 6, 2009
Almost half a century ago, a 24-year-old rocked the design world. The architect's vision for modular housing-his master's thesis, actually-was selected for construction as part of the World's Fair in 1967. Known as Habitat 67, Moshe Safdie's prefabricated housing complex was made of interlocking concrete modules with factory-finished interiors.And yet it fell short of some key goals: the structure was intended as an affordable alternative to suburbia, a 1,000-unit "city in the sky" for urban dwellers. But in fact, only 345 modules were completed, and the buildings are now an elite condo complex.So why didn't it work? "For a high-rise you need concrete, because it has to be fireproof, and concrete is very heavy, so the shipping becomes quite complicated," Safdie says, adding that, "what ended up catching on more widely is panelized, prefabricated structures, some of them very ugly."According to Safdie, we have a long way to go to realize the dream of affordable, high quality, modular apartment complexes. "The breakthrough that's missing is in the material realm-to have something that is both light and fireproof. We have these in the lab now, some plastics, some carbon…but at this point they are still very expensive. When we have more access to these materials we will begin to see real innovations in both prefab and non-prefab structures."
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A Few Words From a Legend