I just happened to be looking up a word in the American Heritage Dictionary when I came upon a striking picture that was used to illustrate the word “modular.” The illustration showed a Montreal dwelling called “Habitat,” designed by Moshe Safdie.
The design is a little bit chaotic, but it also has an order to it that appeals to me. It’s sort of crystalline in nature – irregular in overall shape, yet its growth adheres to rigid orthogonal axes. And I like its apparent mission to provide “privacy, fresh air, sunlight and suburban amenities in an urban location.”
One of the many horrors of the massive public housing apartments that loom over big city slums (like the one in the Bronx, pictured below) is the monotonic regularity of each unit. These “projects” seem by their very nature to thwart individuality and beat their tenants into collective insignificance.
In contrast, the Safdie “Habitat” provides each tenant with a unique unit, each with its own balcony and as much privacy as is possible in such a limited space. If I were just scraping by in a big city and couldn’t afford a more private space, I think I would really appreciate the individuality of the Safdie construction and the dignity it permits.
Incidentally, on a totally different topic, I started out this post by saying I was looking up a word in the American Heritage Dictionary, Fourth Edition. I bought this dictionary after going to New York to celebrate the Ayn Rand centennial in 2005. Somebody (I can’t remember whom it was - Yaron Brook, or perhaps Jeff Britting?) mentioned that this dictionary included at least one quote from Ayn Rand that, at least symbolically, is an uplifting sign. In the synonyms section for the word “honor,” the dictionary lists “reverence,” then gives as an example a quote from Ayn Rand: “Kill reverence and you’ve killed the hero in man.”