Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie at the National Gallery of Canada

Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie, an unprecedented exploration of the renowned architect’s work and philosophy, will premiere at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa on October 6, 2010 and subsequently tour to Chicago, Los Angeles, and Bentonville, Arkansas. The exhibition guides viewers on a journey from Safdie’s groundbreaking Habitat for Expo ’67 in Montreal through his most recent projects in China, India, Singapore, and the US. Curated by Donald Albrecht, an independent curator and curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of the City of New York, the exhibition underscores Safdie’s extraordinary career as a leading architect, urban planner, theorist, educator and author.


Global Citizen is divided into five sections, each dedicated to pivotal points of development in Safdie’s design philosophy, termed “progressive contextualism.” Flowing from his early, formative years through his vision for the future, the exhibition illuminates Safdie’s belief that a building should be an extension of its physical, historical, and cultural environments through models, sketches, photographs, and newly commissioned films of 30 building projects. To further contextualize the architectural and humanist dimensions of Safdie’s work, Global Citizen includes monitors of audio and video, periodicals, and other archival material that parallel the developments of the projects. The exhibition’s concluding section is titled Habitat of the Future, and is an evolutionary reworking of Habitat – Safdie’s radical solution for quality affordable housing. The culmination of two years of design research, created especially for Global Citizen, Habitat of the Future proposes new design strategies that innovatively address the growing density of global cities – an ever more pressing issue today.


Safdie’s design approach is skillfully demonstrated in his completed Canadian projects, each of which has played a role in expressing the country’s cultural identity. One of Safdie’s earliest great communal spaces, the National Gallery of Canada is the first permanent home of the nation’s art collection. Its design makes direct reference to Canadian contexts through its materials, Library of Parliament-inspired conically shaped Great Hall, and relationship with the Ottawa River. Safdie has for a generation been the leading architect of important civic projects in Canada, including Montreal Museum of Fine Art, Ottawa City Hall, and Vancouver Library Square.


“Moshe Safdie designed one of the finest museum buildings in the world for Canada’s national collection; one that magnificently ennobles its function,” said NGC Director, Marc Mayer. “The exhilarating perspectives and volumes of his first art museum go a long way to prepare the visitor for the unique cultural experiences we hope that each one will have. This exhibition travels the world to show us the extraordinary variety of equally intelligent, inventive and meaningful buildings that Safdie has created throughout his brilliant career.”


Founder of Safdie Architects, the international architecture and urban planning practice headquartered in Boston, MA, Safdie has recently completed a number of global projects. Mamilla Center, Jerusalem (2010) is a thriving 28-acre central business and mixed-use district that combines urban, architectural, and landscape design. The Khalsa Heritage Center, Anandpur Sahib (2010) is a museum and cultural center that celebrates 500 years of Sikh culture with communal spaces that address Sikh traditions and contemporary needs. Marina Bay Sands, Singapore (2010) is a $5.7-billion high-density, mixed-use integrated resort capped with a 2.5-acre SkyPark, located 656 feet above the water.  


“Through his buildings,” said Albrecht, “Moshe Safdie has been especially adept at realizing the aspirations of a surprisingly diverse group of clients. For them he has created buildings where communities are forged of strangers, memory is enshrined, and identity is created in built form. Few architects have been able to so fully realize their philosophies in practice.” 


Organized by Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas and the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, Global Citizen explores the design and building process of Safdie’s projects in Jerusalem, North America, China, Singapore, and India. The exhibition underscores his deep impact on architectural practices and the realization of his design philosophy.


The North American exhibition tour will include the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa from October 6, 2010-January 9, 2011; the Chicago Cultural Center in Chicago from May 7-September 18, 2011; the Skirball Cultural Center in the fall of 2012 (dates to be confirmed), and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in the summer of 2013 (dates to be confirmed).


An exhibition catalogue features essays by Moshe Safdie, Donald Albrecht, and critic Sarah Williams Goldhagen and new photography by Gus Powell, and will be available from Scala Publishers after September 1, 2010. It will be for sale at the National Gallery of Canada Bookstore and at in conjunction with the exhibition.


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