Decided to follow the crowds and check out Moshe Safdie yesterday evening. He was presenting the David J. Azrieli Lecture in Architecture at McGill University in Montreal on “Megascale, Order and Complexity”. It was, despite misgivings as to his over-hyped popularity, amazingly interesting.
Safdie began with high ideals, speaking of the “power” of his craft to transform, but he also said that as long as there was a “failure of the urban” it was difficult to usher in the “triumph of architecture” spoken of by so many technophiles. How, he asked rhetorically, can one create truly meaningful spaces and transcend the strictures of “fashion”. Further, how do architects avoid the leveling and universalizing force of the market? “The market” seemed like something he wasn’t terribly fond of. Funny, since it has been pretty good to him…
Tracing the development of the city center from its 19th century origins to the socialist-inspired “new urbanism” of the 20th century, Safdie used this historical preamble to launch into discussions of his own work. He talked of unbuilt “Habitats”, his current mega-project in Singapore, and other more recent successes, including the lovely Salt Lake City Public Library. Through his visual presentation I found fascinating insight into the use of geometry and its obvious centrality in architecture. In his final conclusion Safdie showed how, for him, inspiration comes from the myriad shapes in nature (an eagle’s wing, a conch shell, a spiderweb), talking about complexity, order and “fitness” in the Darwinian sense. Beauty, he suggested, is an absolute — a mathematical, geometrical and moreover, morphological quality. In this sense, I think he feels truth and beauty in art can still be achieved, particularly when one allows nature to guide and inspire.
An interesting — if not particularly original — point. Still, I was inspired that after 40+ years of designing characteristic structures around the world and building a kind of architectural empire, Safdie is still, at heart, a hopeless romantic. Or at least that’s the vibe he gives off in public lectures. Fascinating, overall.