In recent years, Mr. Safdie, 77, whose visit to New York coincided with “Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie,” an exhibition through Jan. 10 at the National Academy Museum, rediscovered the merits of his Habitat 67. That project, a groundbreaking modular system of high-rise dwellings that was unveiled at the Montreal World Expo in 1967, made his name.
Mr. Safdie might have been expected to take a dim view of the High Line, that meandering strip of elevated railway track turned people’s park, which has since its inception a decade ago met with praise and its share of disparagement as a “Disney World on the Hudson.”
Instead, he seemed all admiration.
“Look what happens in the city when something becomes a destination,” he said, his gaze settling first on the streams of passers-by enjoying the last shoots of greenery lining the path, then wandering to the fishbowl-like towers that flank it.
He strolled beneath a leafy bower and found it soothing. “You forget that you are in a city at all,” he said.
Still, the proliferation of adjacent residential structures gave him pause. The High Line has merit, as he might say, “but it takes urban hype to sustain it.”
A believer in light and a longtime champion of the kind of urban planning that allows, he said, “for gardens, porosity, community and space,” he fretted that the outcropping of towers on both sides of the park would soon overshadow it, creating something of the canyonlike effect that blights much of Lower Manhattan.
In Singapore, where his triple-tower Marina Bay Sands stands as his first major project in Asia, “when they sell the land, they sell with it the urban design scheme,” Mr. Safdie said approvingly. “It makes for cohesiveness.”
“In parts of China,” he added, “there is an ordinance that every apartment should get three hours of sunlight each day.”
Here, by contrast, “Every developer wants to have his tower smack against the High Line,” he said. “The quality is sure to be higher than average, but if you had some kind of thoughtful urban planning, it would be greater still.”
City developers, he pointed out, seem to operate from a different, often conflicting agenda.