BIG designs "Habitat 2.0" for Toronto


Bjarke Ingels' firm has unveiled designs for a major residential development in downtown Toronto, reminiscent of the experimental housing complex built by Moshe Safdie in the 1960s (+ slideshow).

Habitat 2.0 by BIG in Toronto

Proposed for a site between King Street West and Wellington Street, the BIG-designed development includes 500 apartments contained within a pixelated-looking block that rises and falls to create five peaks.

It is this modular arrangement that gives the design a similar aesthetic to Safdie's Habitat 67 – the three-dimensional landscape of 354 stacked concrete "boxes" built for the Montreal Expo of 1967.

Habitat 2.0 by BIG in Toronto

On his Instagram page, Danish architect Ingels even refers to the as-yet unnamed project as "Habitat 2.0, 50 years after Moshe Safdie, at King Street West, Toronto".

Commissioned by property developers Westbank and Allied REIT, the project will encompass approximately 725,000 square feet – which equates to around 67,000 square metres.

Habitat 2.0 by BIG in Toronto

In plan, the complex will be a hollow rectangle framing a large communal courtyard for residents.

But the building mass will be broken up into cuboidal modules, each twisted by 45 degrees to create more opportunities to bring in daylight.

Habitat 2.0 by BIG in Toronto

The five tower elements will each be between 15 and 17 storeys high. There will also be openings at ground level, allowing pedestrians to potentially walk through the courtyard.

Habitat 2.0 by BIG in Toronto

Ingels told Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail that the effect will be akin to "a Mediterranean mountain town".

"The scale of the project is so broken down that it almost looks like a bundle of homes rather than a big new building," he said.

Habitat 2.0 by BIG in Toronto

The unusual layout will create numerous different configurations for residents, and apartments will come in a variety of sizes. But most units will have private terraces, many of which will offer impressive views over the city rooftops.

Material choices have not been finalised, but the current plan is to clad the building in some kind of light stone – offering a slight contrast to the raw concrete of Habitat 67.

Habitat 67 by Moshe Safdie
Moshe Safdie presented his experimental modular housing Habitat 67 at the 1967 World Expo in Montreal as a vision for the future of cities

BIG's cemented its reputation as a housing design pioneer with 8 House, a Copenhagen development featuring a figure-of-eight plan, but also with its earlier Mountain Dwellings.

The King Street West project is one of several projects BIG has underway in Canada, alongside the twisted Vancouver House skyscraper and the curvaceous Telus Sky Tower in Calgary.

  • I’m going to invest in local blind and binocular companies and make it big. Interesting project. Not crazy about the material choice, but adding colour or texture would probably complicate the composition. It has enough complexity with the shifting… everything.

  • H-J

    It’s more like a Habitat 0.5.

  • Ian Nairn

    BIGotry 2.0: less an intolerance of other people’s ideas, more a wholesale co-option of them followed by shoddy implementation.

  • Miranda Babbitt

    While it looks like a downright stunning project from the inside, I can’t help but think that it appears a little too isolated and bourgeoisie from the outside.

    It looks like this grand, sci-fi castle smack dab in the middle of Toronto. I’m not one to say that we should sacrifice good design for the sake of uniformity with the surrounding city, but, to me, it looks like a physical manifestation of the growing rich-poor wage gap. Maybe a stretch, just in my opinion.

    • Felix Tannenbaum

      Yeah, but should we try and hide the growing rich-poor wage gap?

  • Galicer

    The thing (big thing) that is missing here is the fact that in the original Habitat, EVERY unit had it’s own open terrace, while in this less socialist version only the expensive units will.

    I do also think that it’s a tiny bit over-scaled for its context. But even with all these, it’s better than a regular apt tower.

    • Stefan

      You are aware that original Habitat was expensive for buying and even more expensive for maintenance. The original Habitat was everything but social.

    • Andre

      The ONLY big thing is that in the original Habitat each unit was made with a single concrete prefabricated module. I don’t think this proposal will follow this premise. As the text says, “similar aesthetic”. And similar aesthetic has nothing to do to say this project is Habitat 2.0.

  • Architects Anonymous

    This putting-trees-on-everything-to-make-my-design-look-better fad needs to go ahead and blow over. Come Bjarke.

  • agagnu

    The Montreal Habitat is difficult to have a “sequel”; it is timeless classic. I doubt what BIG does typically, however clever, fits this category.

    • Stefan

      Nothing timeless about it, actually it is complete opposite, represents its time and era. Parthenon is timeless, Habitat is not.

      • amsam

        Wait, the Parthenon doesn’t represent its time and era?

      • agagnu

        Maybe, ‘classic’ is apt for you. The parthenon is Postmodern for the time.

  • Tedz

    BIG’s design looks to only improve the lives of the very rich. Moshe Safdie’s design attempted to improve the lives of everybody. Please, enlighten me if I’m wrong!

    • Stefan

      You are wrong, Habitat was very expensive for buying and even more expensive for maintenance. Only rich could afford it.

      • Tedz

        Thanks Stefan, I didn’t know! It would be refreshing to see something from BIG that’s affordable. Have they ever done such a thing?

        • There is a subsidised rent component in the skyscraper/courtyard residential project in NYC. There’s a slightly long waiting list. ;-)

  • Steffen

    Another project from the BIG xerox machine company. It looks a lot like their project in Stockholm.

  • stop please and just go away

    Lego company pays well Mr Ingels?

    • Mr BIG

      Much better than your job does, I’m sure.

  • dbz123

    Again, why is everybody hating? He has a good concept and somebody wants to build it! Also the only people who get the Habitat reference are other architects. And he is only using it to relate somehow to where he is. By the way the Habitat project is in Montreal and not Toronto. So whatever! Cool project and hope it gets built!

  • Melon

    Nobody has mentioned the bubbles/glass balls yet?

  • ISS

    “British Astronaut Tim Peak sends message of hope to non-offset box architectural ideas of Danish architects office”.

  • A breath of fresh air, and probably the best housing project in north America since Habitat 67 and Sea Ranch. I hope the old foundation buildings will survive the planing process and will be able to help generate this new parasitic layer of townscape.

  • Archi-Nerd

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this. Want to see the plans.