When Moshe Safdie presented Habitat 67 as part of the International and Universal Exposition in 1967, all eyes were on Montreal. The Israeli-Canadian architect’s spectacular housing complex may have been his first-ever built project, but it totally reimagined high-density urban living with its deconstructed take on a tower block. Made up of 354 pre-fabricated concrete units, it remains one of Canada’s most significant architectural landmarks.
While Habitat 67’s bold, Brutalist form has been constantly photographed over the years, James Brittain aims to show a different side to the building. The photographer seeks to ‘get under the skin’ of the structure in his ongoing personal series Revisited: Habitat 67, showing it from a much less formal point of view.
‘I wanted to explore what else you can say about architecture: how it’s aged, how it’s adapted, how it’s lived in,’ explains Brittain, who divides his time between Montreal and London.
Brittain has captured Moshe Safdie‘s housing complex from the inside out over the last year, in between photography commissions. ‘Habitat 67 is an absolute icon in Montreal, and it’s a beautiful, really intriguing piece of architecture with an amazing story,’ he says.
Among his large-scale images, which go on show at the London studio of Jonathan Tuckey Design tonight, are close-up details of the worn concrete exterior and intimate portraits of residents and apartment interiors. These multiple viewpoints add depth and variety, and are Brittain’s attempt to capture the ‘experience’ of architecture; something he feels is often lost in mainstream photography.
‘The line between digital render and photograph has also become increasingly blurred,’ he explains. ‘Architectural photography is in danger of all looking very similar and, in some cases, it doesn’t describe the built environment in a relevant way.’
Brittain’s Revisited: Habitat 67 looks at the layers and traces left on architecture over time. ‘Part of the exhibition is thinking about the relationship between the archive and memory and now,’ he adds. As an example, his wide shots directly reference images of Habitat 67 found in the Canadian Centre for Architecture’s archives but, seen through Brittain’s lens, the building takes on a life of its own.
Revisited: Habitat 67 is part of Jonathan Tuckey Design’s new season of Building on the Built of talks and exhibitions at the practice’s studio, 58 Milson Road, London, W14 0LB. See the website for opening times. Brittain will be speaking about the project with architectural curator Vanessa Norward on 6 February at 6.30pm.