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Moshe Safdie needs no introduction as his work like Habitat 67 in Montreal and the iconic Altair that is set to stand tall and stand out in Colombo speak for themselves.

The Israeli architect, urban designer and educator was in the country last week for the 2017 National Conference organized by the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects. To put it simply, Safdie is the brain behind most architectural marvels that get people picking their brains thinking ‘how’.

“To set the record straight, I have never built anything on the West Bank,” Safdie said, before talking about his work. He emphasized that he believed in a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That was however all he was willing to speak about on politics.

Safdie said that he thinks Sri Lanka is a beautiful country with a rich, elaborate culture. He did not forget to say how much he admires legendary Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa whom he called an enigma-like architect Arthur Erickson.

Artist’s impression of Altair Colombo
Artist’s impression of Altair Colombo

“I have been a keen follower of Bawa’s work for decades,” said Safdie, when asked about his thoughts on the industry. He said that he thinks the local fraternity has potential and is dynamic. Speaking about his previous work, Safdie said that his approach to designs have always been a ‘human and comprehensive approach’.

Speaking of one of his early works, Habitat 67 in Montreal, Canada, Safdie said the thinking behind the project was to revolutionize the high-rise living experience of urban settlers at a time when all the apartments in the city had the same exact grid structure which he deemed boring and inappropriate for family living. This project which put Safdie on the map comprises of 158 residences, each with its own roof garden.

Since, Safdie has been building masterpieces around the world and not looked back, some of his most significant works include the Marina Bay Sands resort in Singapore, Missouri’s Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Salt Lake City Public Library, National Art Gallery in Canada and The Jewel which is an extension of the Changi Airport in Singapore.

Safdie described his architectural style as modernist and said that he approaches every design by trying to study meticulously the background and culture of a given country as he believed. “Speaking the language of the place is very important,” he declared.

Moshe Safdie
Moshe Safdie

Speaking of Altair in Colombo and Colombo in general, Safdie said that the city is developing at a rapid pace because unlike five years ago when the project initiated, many projects of similar scale have started in all parts of Colombo. He believed that Sri Lanka was on its way to emerging as a vibrant city in the region and emphasized on the importance of not compromising on the country’s uniqueness and legacy in the process.

He said that sustainability is a key area in his designs. In the case of The Jewel, he said that he has tried to ‘bring nature indoors’ and give people a one-of-a-kind shopping experience and a chance to be at one with nature and greenery which is not abundant in Singapore as it is in Sri Lanka.

Safdie is the recipient of several accolades including a Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects, Mt. Scopus Award for Humanitarianism from Jerusalem, Richard Neutra Award for Professional Excellence and a Gold Medal from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada.

The 78-year-old living legend has stunned the world with his creations and continues to create masterpieces while creating a next generation of architects through his extensive studies on the ever-evolving subject. Other than Altair, he is currently involved in a number of projects around the world including the National Medal of Honour Museum in South Carolina, Centro Hospitalario in Colombia and the Chongqing Chaotianmen in China.