Get to know Moshe Safdie, architectural visionary behind Changi Airport's Project Jewel

Habitat 67 in Montreal, Canada was designed by Moshe Safdie between 1964 and 1967. Box-like concrete residential units stacked in a seemingly random way to create interspersed crannies which inhabitants can use as calming, private nooks. -- PHOTO: MO
Habitat 67 in Montreal, Canada was designed by Moshe Safdie between 1964 and 1967. Box-like concrete residential units stacked in a seemingly random way to create interspersed crannies which inhabitants can use as calming, private nooks. -- PHOTO: MOSHE SAFDIE
Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew (right) and lead design consultant Moshe Safdie (centre), take a look at a life-size model of Jewel Changi Airport, the mixed-use complex featuring attractions, retail offerings,a hotel and facilities for airport opera
Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew (right) and lead design consultant Moshe Safdie (centre), take a look at a life-size model of Jewel Changi Airport, the mixed-use complex featuring attractions, retail offerings,a hotel and facilities for airport operations, on 5 Dec, 2014. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Moshe Safdie, Israeli-Canadian-American architect. -- PHOTO: SAFDIE ARCHITECTS
Moshe Safdie, Israeli-Canadian-American architect. -- PHOTO: SAFDIE ARCHITECTS
Israeli-born architect Moshe Safdie, who designed Marina Bay Sands, is designing the upcoming Project Jewel, an iconic complex that will become every air traveller's gateway to Singapore. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Israeli-born architect Moshe Safdie, who designed Marina Bay Sands, is designing the upcoming Project Jewel, an iconic complex that will become every air traveller's gateway to Singapore. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE -The upcoming Project Jewel, an iconic complex that will become every air traveller's gateway to Singapore, is designed by Israeli-born Moshe Safdie.

The 76-year-old architect and urban planner is best known in Singapore as the designer of Marina Bay Sands, but he is also the brains behind several condominiums here.

As an advocate of connected buildings with open spaces, he is a fierce critic of high-density housing, including at one time, Singapore's Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats.

Here's more about the renowned architect and his works:

1. Who is Moshe Safdie?

By age 30, Moshe Safdie had achieved international acclaim for his first major project - Habitat '67. The residential development, which looks like taupe-coloured cubes stacked haphazardly, is linked by skylights, terraces, and large plazas. It was the centrepiece of the 1967 World Expo in Montreal.

The project, and his humanistic vision of city living, won him the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada's coveted Massey Medal, and put him on the cover of Newsweek.

The Israel-born, Canadian-trained, US-based architect has also designed buildings in Israel, India, US, China, and Bangladesh.

2. What are his projects in Singapore?

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Project Jewel: His latest features a doughnut-shaped glass dome encasing a lush indoor garden and waterfall. The lifestyle complex will link Terminals 1, 2 and 3 of Changi Airport, and the Changi Airport MRT station.

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Marina Bay Sands: The integrated resort housing shops, a convention centre and a casino, is known for its three 55-storey hotel towers, the SkyPark perched on them, and the lotus-shaped ArtScience Museum.

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Sky Habitat:A condominium in Bishan, is based on an update of Safdie's ideals showcased in Habitat '67. The fractal-based structure has terraces and gardens both on the ground and in the air.

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The Edge on Cairnhill: A 20-storey luxury condominium in Cairnhill Road. The apartments all boast 180-degree views of the city skyline through a floor-to-ceiling glass wall.

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The Habitat at Ardmore Park: Built in 1985, it also features his trademark use of terraces and open spaces.

He proposed a design for Singapore's National Library Building in 2000, but it was rejected.

3. What are his projects overseas?

Safdie has gone on to build dozens of bulidings around the world. Here are some of the distinctive ones:

Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Kansas City, Missouri (2011)

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Khalsa Heritage Centre, Punjab, India (2011)

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National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada (1988)

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4. What is his design philosophy?

"I try firstly to make buildings humane. Countries and places have a history, a story, and a culture. I want my buildings to take root and look as if they've always been there," Safdie told Vanity Fair in an interview in 2012.

Architecture needs to create "meaningful, vital, inclusive social spaces", it states on the Safdie Architects website.

It also needs to "mitigate the dehumanising of the mega-scale", as populations get denser and high-rise buildings proliferate, it adds.

5. How does he rate Singapore's urban planning?

Very well, according to an interview with The Business Times in June 2000.

"Singapore is probably the only place in the world in which serious planning is attempted with land use, transport and so on," he said. "There is serious thinking through. Israel tries, but it's too chaotic. In other places like China, it's total chaos."

"Nowhere else in the world is landscaping used so effectively," he enthused, adding that the other successful element is the city's pedestrian-friendly streets.

However, not all decisions have been right, he qualified.

"The less fortunate part is that in the urgency to build housing for everyone in the early years, the housing that was built was very standardised, repetitive and a little bureaucratic in its image and feeling," he noted. "But I think there's recognition that this needs to be enlivened and made more diverse."

Sources: Straits Times archive, The Business Times archive, TED talks website, Safdie Architects website

chuimin@sph.com.sg