About three years ago I woke up in Ottawa, Canada, to a driving rainstorm. It was the morning after the gala opening of the exhibition Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie at the National Gallery of Canada. I was there to represent the Skirball, where the exhibition would be traveling next, and I had plenty of company—not only museum colleagues, but donors, press, media, and government leaders and dignitaries from throughout Canada. The gala was a major event, and today’s lecture by Moshe Safdie seemed like an afterthought. It was scheduled for Friday midday, not a great time for a public program in any case, and certainly not when the rain was lashing the streets and sidewalks. I lamented the poor planning and the unlucky weather. It would be embarrassing, after such a triumphant opening, for Safdie to address an empty hall.
The wind was whipping the rain sideways. By the time I turned the corner, my umbrella was inside out and I was drenched. So were the people I suddenly noticed queued up in front of me, standing patiently, if wetly, in a line stretching for blocks. I couldn’t believe it. There must have been 500 people standing in the rain, an hour before the lecture, waiting to hear Moshe Safdie. The hall wasn’t empty; it was sold out. These people were waiting to get in. Not all of them did. They watched the lecture instead on a video screen outside. In the rain.
By the way, it was worth it. Moshe Safdie is a gifted, dynamic speaker with a rare combination of humility, humor, and grace. But I knew that. What I had failed to appreciate, in advance of the talk, is why he drew such a crowd despite the elements and the hour. It is because in Canada, Safdie is a household word. He is the architect not only of the National Gallery, but of many of the nation’s most beloved civic landmarks: Habitat ’67 in Montreal, Library Square in Vancouver, the Museum of Civilization in Quebec City. This is even truer in Israel, Safdie’s birthplace, where he has literally reshaped the landscape: Ben Gurion International Airport, the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum, the Mamilla district of Jerusalem, the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv. Here in the United States, where the Skirball Cultural Center was only the first of his many commissions—including Exploration Place in Wichita, the Main Public Library in Salt Lake City, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas—Safdie is now attracting the mass acclaim that follows him elsewhere in the world.
Click below to view a TEDTalk by Safdie on “what makes a building unique”:
Now that Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie has come to Los Angeles, our visitors will be able to learn more about Safdie’s remarkable worldwide achievements. Occupying all of the Skirball’s Museum galleries, the exhibition is a glorious three-dimensional experience, a journey through the visionary urbanscape of Safdie’s extraordinary career, including his latest dazzling projects in Singapore and Beijing. You won’t want to miss it.