In 1951, Martin Bulthaup founded a furniture company in Bavaria, Germany, and began producing wooden kitchen pantries and sideboards based on Bauhaus economies of scale and form. His company expanded its repertoire and product line to include the “bl concept kitchen” in 2011 for a unit in Moshe Safdie, FAIA’s iconic Habitat ’67 housing project in Montreal—led by Bulthaup’s granddaughter, architect Antje Bulthaup. Antje, licensed with the Royal Institute of British Architects, splits her time between Canada and Germany while also co-managing the Bulthaup Toronto showroom.
To work within an existing building, we have to understand its structure, technologies, function, and its history. It’s also important to understand the architect’s original vision as well as the building’s spatial and emotional qualities. My client for Habitat ’67 bought three cubes in raw condition, as the previous owner had gutted the interior to its shell and then aborted his renovation. Since they were unconnected cubes with no character, I wanted to unify the cubes and let the space speak a new language that was contemporary while also expressing the original spirit of Habitat ’67.
Moshe Safdie faced an incredible challenge in imagining a building for such a very narrow strip of land with water on either side. Not only is the building visible from very far away as well as from different parts of the city, it also addresses its solitary location on the isthmus from within the spaces, allowing for an enormous variety of outlooks and perspectives from the different apartments.
The fact that the building is stacked also enhances this condition—no window looks directly into another apartment. Windows are never located together, but placed on different walls—sometimes even over a corner. We acknowledged this condition by using the different outlooks as “framed views”—by arranging the furniture in such a way that a window becomes a screen or a specific place to sit. For example, the kitchen bar counter runs directly in front of the window, giving our clients the feeling that, as they sit there and sip their morning coffee, there is nothing in between them and the St. Lawrence River.
There are two ways of approaching building design. One is from the outside to the inside—creating an overall form and then trying to accommodate everything in the design brief. The other way is to address the entire space inside and then to let the outside express what is there. I believe that it is best if a good balance is struck between these two approaches. There should be no separation between the inside and outside. It should be easy to finish the internal spaces if the overall architectural language of the building is good, with the aim of realizing a unified and engaging building that will charm and delight and be appreciated for many years to come.—As told to William Richards