Moshe Safdie’s DS21 Chapron Convertible – Architectural Inspiration

Moshe Safdie is an Israeli-Canadian-American architect, urban planner, educator, theorist, and author.

Safdie is known for incorporating principles of socially responsible design throughout the course of his six-decade career. His projects include cultural, educational, and civic institutions; neighbourhoods and public parks; housing; mixed-use urban centers; airports; and master plans for existing communities and entirely new cities in the Americas, the Middle East, and Asia. Safdie is most identified with designing Marina Bay Sands and Jewel Changi Airport, as well as his debut project Habitat 67, a futuristic comdominium development designed as part of Expo 67 the International World’s Fair held in Montreal.

Habitat ’67 was originally conceived as his thesis at McGill University and has endured to become an architectural landmark in Montreal. It was declared a historic site by Quebec in 2009.

In his biographical book “If Walls Could Speak: My Life in Architecture”, published in 2022 Safdie writes:

“After Habitat ’67 was completed, Nina and I found ourselves, for the first time, with an income beyond basic sustenance. I allowed myself one indulgence. Succumbing to a love for cars—which I trace back to my father’s Studebaker—I bought a 1968 Citroën DS21 convertible, a limited edition issued by the French designer Chapron, and one of the most beautiful cars ever made. I believe only a hundred or so were manufactured. I’ve kept the car to this day, maintained and restored over the years. I still drive it in the summer, though it now qualifies as an antique.

  Moshe Safdie’s 1968 Citroën DS21 convertible (from “If Walls Could Speak: My Life in Architecture” by Moshe Safdie, 2022).

He goes on to write that when in Israel in the 1970s, he met with Israel’s armed forces commander, General Israel Tal, who was credited with building up the country’s formidable armoured capability. He was in the process of designing a new tank called the Merkava (Hebrew for “chariot”), that he wanted it to be in his words; “the most beautiful tank in the world”. Tal took Safdie to top-secret Jaffe warehouse and showed him a plywood mock-up of the tank that had a number of protrusions for vents, exhaust and sensors of various kinds. Safdie writes that he hadn’t given much thought to what would make a beautiful tank, but he reflected on his Citroën.

“It’s beauty had to do with its streamlined look. The headlights, and many other elements somehow found a way into its aerodynamic envelope.”

“I set out to understand the purpose of each of the Merkava’s protrusions as well as the parameters for the overall dimensions and shape of the tank. It was clear that the turret and front engine could accommodate a natural aerodynamic form. The back would be more like the aft of a ship. My focus over the next several visits was to figure out how to incorporate the protrusions into a streamlined envelope. Functionally, this was necessary: the protrusions represented a hazard. Shells, which might bounce off a smooth surface, could snag and detonate. By the time we were done, there wasn’t a single wart on the exterior And the functional necessity had an aesthetic payoff: the tank possessed the sleekness of a bullet.”

Merkava MK 4 tanks.

Habitat ’67 has another affiliation with the Citroën DS. It was the setting for a highly stylized video of Leonard Cohen’s song In My Secret Life where DS sedan is featured.

Today, Safdie Architects is headquartered in Somerville, Massachusetts, near Harvard University, with additional offices in Jerusalem, Toronto, Shanghai, and Singapore. Although Safdie now lives Somerville, MA, he still maintains a residence at Habitat ’67 in Montreal.


  1. This is a spectacular post. In every way. I work with many great architects, all of whom admire Safdie, and I sent them this post. I can imagine no higher praise in the world of design than from Safdie. And them Habitat 67 and a Citroën merge in Cohen’s achingly sad song.

  2. There is a wonderful Safdie designed apartment complex built on a hill very near The Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, MO. It’s crowded in with a lot of other apartment buildings but is a real standout!

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