Habitat 67: Photographer captures life in the housing estate 50 years on from its opening

Local photographer James Brittain chose to show everyday activity within the estate, instead of its futuristic exterior

The brutal reality: what goes on inside the famous structure
The brutal reality: what goes on inside the famous structure

Photographer James Brittain has revisited the Habitat 67 housing estate in Montreal 50 years after it first opened. The building, designed by Israeli/Canadian architect Moshe Safdie, has become one of the world’s best known examples of brutalist architecture – and a national landmark in Canada.

Habitat 67 was intended to revolutionise affordable living, its series of interlocking terraces and verandas were supposed to be a model for how pre-fabricated concrete structures could create both a natural environment and privacy within an urban setting. The design had a lasting influence over other brutalist forms; the elements of social integration and pre-fab modular developments seen in other structures from Sadfie’s later contemporaries.

The building has become one of the most photographed in Canada, even featuring on a commemorative stamp late last year. Mr Brittain chose to photograph the building in a different light to celebrate this landmark – deliberately eschewing its harsh exterior and instead focusing on how residents have made Habitat 67 their own.

“I’ve been thinking about layers and traces of life left on architecture over time,” said Mr Brittain. “I’ve also been considering the way Habitat 67 itself has aged, how it’s used and inhabited, and how both public and private space at the complex has been adapted by the residents.”

Mr Brittain photographed residents within their homes, as well as small artefacts that now litter the building and how the concrete structure has changed over time. Mr Brittain also wanted to create a response to the massive influence of “Instagram culture” on the architectural world, by turning people away from how dazzling the structure looks on social media.

“Mainstream photography of architecture has largely withdrawn from communicating the experience of buildings and spaces, and specific moments spent in places,” said Mr Brittain. ”The line between digital render and photograph has also become increasingly blurred. In the pursuit of standing out in the visual noise, much contemporary imagery of architecture has reduced itself to the ordinary – clean, similar and mundane.”

The photographs will feature as part of a series of talks at Jonathan Tuckey Design, London – accompanied by archives from the Canadian Centre for Architecture, and the Canadian Architecture Collection at McGill University. For more information head to www.buildingonthebuilt.org/james-brittain-photography

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in