Architecture as Vocation

By Sarah Williams Goldhagen

In her comprehensive essay on Moshe Safdie’s philosophy and approach to architecture, Sara Williams Goldhagen examines Safdie’s role in the move toward architectural globalization, framing his buildings as exemplars of 'progressive contextualism' - an important way of thinking globally about building. “Architecture as Vocation” also examines Safdie’s intellectual development in the context of Team Ten, and emphasizes the importance of Safdie’s urbanism, an under-recognized strength of his work.


"Moshe Safdie’s work, encompassing different typologies, scales, and practices in the built environment, powerfully grapples with the challenges of building in today’s world: the changing role of the architect in the face of the exponential growth of large-scale urban regions; globalization’s impact on human settlement patterns, social relations, and cultural identities; the architect’s role in shaping not only an individual project’s program but its larger civic role; the complex formal innovations made possible by new digital technologies for design, construction, and manufacturing. Responding to the growth of large-scale regional conurbations, Safdie, in his writings and a series of regional plans, urban plans, and master plans for new towns, has proposed various strategies to responsibly manage growth. To stay the homogenizing tides of globalization, he creates pockets of locality in varied contexts. In buildings around the globe, he has taken advantage of new manufacturing processes and new digital technologies to create dramatic, previously unexecutable forms, and then assiduously worked with manufacturing and construction firms to tweak those forms in order to maximize efficiency in their construction." 

"In light of all this, one might think that Safdie’s work would be central to today’s architectural discourse, and yet one only infrequently finds mention of it. Why? There is a quick answer: the blast furnace of Safdie’s intellect, combined with his deeply committed approach to architecture, has conferred upon him, in his pronouncements and his work, the wisdom and the curse of maintaining a critical distance from the immediate. Safdie approaches design not as the fabrication of photogenic moments, but as a vocation, and he designs from a larger ethical framework that is uncommon in contemporary international practice."


Complete essay available as PDF below.

Goldhagen’s essay is featured in the catalogue accompanying a traveling exhibition, Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie. First published in 2010, with a second edition in 2015, the exhibition was a major review of Safdie’s practice and philosophy, beginning with his thesis project and the seminal project Habitat ’67, and tracing the evolution of his ideas over the next 40 years.

Published in Practice on January 1, 2015

Tags: Philosophy