Architect has a blueprint for tourism

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Moshe Safdie, who designed Terminal 1 at Toronto’s international airport, is shown at the Global Citizen exhibition. (Photo courtesy of Michal Ronnen Safdie)

Story by Rod Charles Deputy Editor

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL — I had the opportunity to speak with Canadian architect Moshe Safdie during a stay at David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem.

You may not recognize his name but make no mistake, we are impacted by his work all the time. In fact as soon as I boarded my flight I was already feeling that impact – Terminal 1 at Lester B. Pearson International Airport in Toronto and Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel are two of his architectural creations.

“(Terminal 1, Toronto Pearson International Airport) was a joint venture with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Adamson Associates. My motto in Toronto was let the light be king. For example, the terminal curve is facing north, so as you come in, you are facing south. The skylights bring sunlight into the processing hall,” says Safdie. “The next idea was to let that same light penetrate all the way down so that the baggage room has sunlight as well. Then as you cross the security line, you’re going down the stairs and there are skylights in the apex, so again the circulation follows the light. Many people would agree that you always find your way around Toronto airport because you’re always following the light.”

Born in 1938 and named a Companion of the Order of Canada, Safdie is an urban designer, educator, theorist, and author who has designed some of the most important buildings in the world. The Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum, the United States Institute of Peace Headquarters in Washington, DC and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City are just a handful of his international works. David Citadel Hotel where we met is also one of his creations.

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Habitat 67 in Montreal was designed while Moshe Safdie was studying at McGill University. (Photo courtesy of Timothy Hursley)

At home, his work includes the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, the Musée de la Civilisation in Québec City (for which he received a Governor General’s Award for Architecture in 1992), as well as renovations and a major addition to the Montréal Museum of Fine ArtsHabitat 67 in Montreal (which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year) is the project that put his career on the map. Originally conceived as his master’s thesis in architecture at McGill University, Habitat 67 was built as a pavilion for Expo 67, the World’s Fair held in 1967 and remains one of Montreal‘s most beloved landmarks.

No surprise, Safdie believes architecture plays an important role for enticing tourists. In some cases, buildings can be the biggest attraction of a city, he feels.

“In Jerusalem, I would think one of the best architectural attractions is the Supreme Court,” says Safdie, who is an Israeli, Canadian and American citizen. “I think the redone Israel Museum is extremely well done by Jamie Carpenter. I would think Mamilla Hotel is an attraction for architects, specifically.”

At times we overlook the fact architecture is a key tourism ingredient. But could you imagine visiting Jerusalem, Paris or Washington without paying a visit to the Dome of the Rock, the Eiffel Tower or White House? Of course not. Yet these are the buildings we long to see and not only because they are buildings of historical significance but because they are in their own way works of art. A true master like Safdie can make the ordinary extraordinary; residential buildings, universities, churches, shopping malls, libraries or a courthouse can become popular landmarks that cry out for selfies. Even something we may take for granted like a bus station can inspire and enhance the traveller experience, like Poole Bus Station (Design: Penson Architects, Londonin the United Kingdon or Aarau (Architects: Vehovar & Jauslin Architektur) in Switzerland.


Architect Moshe Safdie enjoyed a stay at David Citadel Hotel in Israel, a building he designed. (Rod Charles/

One of my Safdie favourites is his 1995 design for Vancouver Library Square, a nine-storey, 37,000-square-metre building that makes you feel like you’re walking near a Roman coliseum. When I stepped off the shuttle at the front doors of David Citadel Hotel and took a first look at the structure I was reminded of Vancouver’s famous library. Safdie says Canada is a rich destination for architecture.

“Canada has such diversity, I would have to think city by city. I mean Quebec City, the city is the attraction. My museum, the Musée de la Civilisation is an attraction by itself. They have a new museum, the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, which is outstanding,” says Safdie. “Montreal, obviously there’s Habitat but there’s other things as well. The Canadian Centre for Architecture, a Peter Rose building, is certainly an attraction. Toronto has lots of stuff. Toronto has a wide variety of attraction, including of course the Royal Ontario Museum. Vancouver has Arthur Erickson’s Museum of Anthropology, several buildings of Arthur Erickson are attractions.”

The next Canadian city to get some attention from Safdie will be Toronto with the Parkside Residential Development. To most people it might only be another residential building but for tourists who love architecture it will be a heck of an attraction that will cry out for selfies.

Rod has previously worked for and is currently freelancing for Huffington Post Travel. He’s also written travel articles for the Toronto Star and Up! Magazine. Living in Toronto but raised in the small central Ontario village of Holstein, Rod is a country boy at heart who has never met a farmer’s market he didn’t like.

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