New directions for the dense city: Moshe Safdie in Singapore


  • Cecilia Bischeri Griffith University
  • Silvia Micheli The University of Queensland School of Architecture



Dense Cities, Moshe Safdie, Singapore, Utopian Urbanism


In 1965, Singapore declared its independence and initiated a process of modernisation aiming to erase any evidence of its colonial past. Thedevelopmentalist orientation of Singapore, as Rem Koolhaas defined it, together with the formula “displace, destroy, replace,” became the theoretical instruments used to implement the urban vision for the future city. Singapore has thus become the contemporary urban laboratory of the Asia Pacific Region and due to its limited area for construction, turned into an experimental epicentre in the field of dense dwelling. A protagonist of this experimentation has been the Israeli/Canadian architect Moshe Safdie, designer of the Integrated resort casino Marina Bay Sands (2010), an exemplary feature of Singapore’s drive for development.


This paper focuses on Safdie’s theoretical work, casting light on the ideological shift from his early modern residential project Habitat‘67, built during the Expo in Montreal (Canada) in 1967, to the contemporary residential complex Sky Habitat, completed in 2015 in Singapore. While Habitat’67 represented the manifesto of Safdie’s social utopia, envisaging itself as a prototypical residential component of the future city, Sky Habitat is a private gated community, which targets an upper-class market. And yet, Safdie’s two projects, distant in time and social ideals, display comparable strategies, as the use of similar architectural solutions and the permanence of urban modern utopian principles. These strategies underpin two other projects designed recently by Safdie in China: the Golden Dream Bay in Qinhuangdao (2016) and Chongqing Chaotianmen (design phase), which propose further elaboration of Sky Habitat’s urban principles.


This paper will investigate how utopian urban strategies elaborated during the Modern period and advanced and tested in the 1960s and 1970s, have become material of experimentation for new forms of living in the congested 21st century city, evolving the concept of urban density in “the city that could be”. 


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Author Biographies

Cecilia Bischeri, Griffith University

Dr Cecilia Bischeri has been interested in architectural projects that ground their strengths in connecting the technical requirements of large-scale projects with the provision of a societal dimension for the targeted community through high quality design. Via the integrative approach of urban and architectural design, the rehabilitation of socially disadvantaged communities and the provision of ameliorative conditions for accelerating the recovery of communities threaten by natural disasters is one of the last focuses of her design portfolio together with a specific attention to the architecture of the tropics. Since 2006, she has been teaching in tertiary institutions in Italy and Australia.

Silvia Micheli, The University of Queensland School of Architecture

Dr Silvia Micheli (PhD, IUAV, Venice) is Lecturer at The University of Queensland, Australia. Silvia’s main research interest focuses on international influence and cross-cultural exchanges in the 20th and 21st century architectural context in Europe and the Asia Pacific region. Silvia has wide expertise in Postmodern and contemporary Italian architecture and Finnish modern architecture. In 2015 Silvia co-convened the seminar ‘Aalto beyond Finland. Architecture and design’ in Rovaniemi with the Alvar Aalto Academy, investigating Aalto’s international network and his impact abroad. Her UQ Postdoctoral project investigated the historical roots of post-war regionalism in Australian architecture through the Scandinavian and Italian legacy. Among her books are: Storia dell’architettura italiana 1985-2015, Einaudi, 2013 (with M. Biraghi); Erik Bryggman (1891-1955). Architettura moderna in Finlandia, Gangemi, 2009 and Lo spettacolo dell’architettura. Profilo dell’archistar©, Bruno Mondadori, 2003 (with G. Lo Ricco). Silvia has worked with international institutions, such as the Alvar Aalto Foundation (Helsinki), Vitra Design Museum (Weil am Rhein), Centre Pompidou (Paris) and MAXXI Museum (Rome).