Rainville-Sangaré Looks to Context for Apartment Renovation in Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67
In 1967 Montreal, architect Moshe Safdie designed a futuristic apartment complex on the banks of the Saint Lawrence River as a pavilion for the World’s Fair commonly known as Expo 67. An experiment in affordable urban housing conceived in the brutalist style, Habitat 67 is a 12-story assemblage of 354 interlocking pre-fabricated concrete boxes strung together on steel cables to create apartments in a variety of sizes and configurations.
Half a century later, both Safdie and his creation are architectural icons. The new owners of Unit 622 hired Rainville-Sangaré to renovate their 1,000-square-foot apartment, which hadn’t been fully updated since the ’80’s. “We converted one of the two blocks, which had been a bedroom, bath, and dining room, into master and guest bedrooms, each with their own bath,” Lambert Rainville says of the T-shape plan. “And the second block became an open living and dining area with a kitchen,” Nicholas Sangaré adds.
The designers, who met at the Université de Montréal, generally kept to neutral colors and a materials palette that respects the original construction: concrete and steel softened by oak. They even exposed the raw concrete where the apartment’s two modules meet, and installed concretelike porcelain wall and floor tiles in both bathrooms. Another unifying element is the use of matte black finishes, from the kitchen’s counters and cabinetry to bathroom fittings and light fixtures throughout.
For wow factor in the two bathrooms, Rainville-Sangaré defined the shower stalls with glass panels sandwiching translucent dichroic film, which changes color as sunlight shifts. “We’d seen this effect used on exteriors but never inside,” Sangaré says. “And it’s even better in person because the appearance alters whenever you move.” Sangaré knows something about movement himself: He spent three years working for the company that fabricated the apartment’s kitchen cabinetry before joining forces with Rainville.