Lecture | Chris Hadfield's Generator 2018

Moshe Safdie travels to Toronto for a special evening

Moshe Safdie joined retired Canadian astronaut Colonel Chris Hadfield onstage in Toronto for the third annual Generator event. Chris Hadfield’s Generator is a one-night variety show featuring talks from inventive and forward-thinking presenters, with an emphasis on science, innovation, and philosophy. This year’s theme was ‘The Second Genius,’ which honed in on the moment of inspiration and invention where the typical becomes the extraordinary. The guest list is not released prior to the event, so the audience was surprised by Safdie’s presentation of Architecture of Belonging, a talk highlighting the stories and ideas behind some of his most culturally significant work, including the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum and Children’s Memorial in Israel, the Khalsa Heritage Center in India, and the United States Institute of Peace Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

After his talk, Safdie was interviewed onstage by Hadfield. The transcript follows:

Chris Hadfield:
I’d like to ask you a few questions, if you don’t mind.

Moshe Safdie:
My pleasure. [MS opens arms welcomingly]

CH:
How many buildings have you built?

MS:
Oh I don’t even know. [crowd laughs]  Maybe eighty? I don’t know, something like that.

CH:
Maybe eighty? Wow. [CH is noticeably impressed]

MS:
Maybe fifty. [energetic crowd laughter]

CH:
There was a couple of things you said that really intrigued me. One was when you were preparing to build the Sikh temple. It’s obviously not your culture that you were raised with - it’s not your faith. You studied it, but you said you listened to the Sikh music. And, why did you do that? I’m interested to get into your own process by which you get ready to do something as magnificent as the images you showed us. [CH gestures to the projection screen]

MS:
You’ve got to have your antennas up, and for me, music is one key kind of thing, and I got many tapes of Sikh music: the Guru Granth music, which is chanting and praying, but also popular music, [MS animatedly gestures with hands] and as I was sketching and working on the building I always had it playing. Like sometimes I play Bach when I’m designing but it’s not for the Sikhs. [crowd laughter] There’s something about being immersed in that music that just gets you in the right mood.

CH:
Can you just describe – where are you when you do that? Those images you showed of a blank piece of… [CH mimics holding large sketchbook]

MS:
It’s very unromantic. I could be on an airplane on a long flight in my sketchbook [MS makes energetic sketching gesture], drawing away. I could be in a lounge of the airport. I could be in my garden at home in Cambridge, it doesn’t really matter. When I work all the time, wherever I have an opportunity - some of it is beautiful and romantic, and some of it is a nuisance, but there you are with your sketchbook. It doesn’t matter. 

CH:
And one last thing, you said when you tried to do the children’s museum – it was refused – you were heartbroken. What do you do when you’re heartbroken?

MS:
You cry inside. [MS gestures to heart] [sparse crowd laughter] I mean – architecture is full of crimes. There is no more wonderful moment than when you walk into a building that you’ve worked on for decades. The crowds pour in. They hug you. But there is a worse moment when you spend many years working on a building and it doesn’t happen. And I didn’t think it would happen, actually when they rejected the design I thought, that’s it. I didn’t expect that ten years later somehow it would be resurrected. You never know the ways of people and the ways of architecture.

CH:
Well we thank you for coming tonight.

MS:
Thank you. [MS nods head to the crowd]
[crowd applauds]


Other presenters include: archaeologist Dr. Sarah Parcak, National Geographic Fellow and founder of GlobalExplorer.org; poet Anis Mojgani, world poetry slam champion; and inventor Sammy Payne, co-founder of Open Bionics. The evening was kicked off by creative director Evan Hadfield, emceed by BBC’s Robin Ince, and punctuated with performances by the house band, Tupperware Remix Party. All photos are by Francesco Petitti, courtesy of Chris Hadfield Inc.


Published in Events on January 11, 2018

Tags: Lectures