Yona Friedman
Structures Serving the Unpredictable

In May the wide-ranging oeuvre of the French-Hungarian architect Yona Friedman (1923) will go on exhibition in the Balcony Room of the NAI. Drawings, models and objects will be on display in a distinctively colourful setting designed for his work. A highly striking element in the exhibition will be a fall-scale reconstruction of his dining room. The complete interior has been specially transported from Paris for the occasion. By bringing visitors into direct contact with the architect's own living space, the exhibition offers an exclusive glimpse of Friedman's universe and his typically imaginative views of the world. This 'intimate' exhibition concept not only provides factual information but also offers deeper insight into, and appreciation of, the thinking of Yona Friedman.
The architect developed his principles in the period shortly after the Second World War, a period in which major issues of reconstruction such as the acute housing shortage and urban rebuilding had to be addressed. He developed a range of flexible construction systems that were intended to offer large-scale, ready-made solutions to these problems.
Yona Friedman rose to prominence in the early 1960s mainly as a result of his manifesto L'Architecture Mobile and its elaboration in La Ville Spatiale. He proposed huge structures, supported on columns, in which residents could build their own dwellings. He later developed simple manuals in the form of comic-books that enabled people to take decisions about the design of their own living environment. Central themes in Friedman's work are flexibility and individual freedom.

Friedman grew up in Budapest and emigrated to Israel immediately after the war. There he completed his studies and formulated his first ideas about flexible housing construction. He participated in the tenth Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM, 1956) in Dubrovnik, where he presented his manifesto L Architecture Mobile. In the following years he elaborated this manifesto in what he called La Ville Spatiale (the spatial city). He projected these structures over imaginary locations and over cities like Paris, Monaco, Venice, London and New York.
In 1957 Friedman settled in Paris and during that period he maintained contact with figures he had met through CIAM, such as Jacob Bakema and later Gerrit Rietveld from the Netherlands, Frey Otto, Kenzo Tange and Le Corbusier.

There is an obvious affinity between his work and the post-war tradition that focused on lightweight structures in an urban context - with designers such as the already mentioned Otto as well as Richard Buckminster Fuller, John Habraken, and the artist Constant Nieuwenhuis. This affinity mainly concerns the external characteristics of Friedman's work and not the essential underlying motives that led Friedman to such forms, motives based on the individual's exercise of free choice.
Most significantly, his belief that the architect, rather than having an autonomous point of view, should instead be there to serve the users and offer advice on technical and organizational matters, will have gained him few allies among professional colleagues.

Friedman's field of work encompassed, in addition to architecture and urban design, the realms of sociology, economics, mathematics, philosophy, planning and art; and for many years he has been involved in the issue of housing in the Third World.
In the early 1960s, for example, he made animation films for French television based on African folk stories; he developed a computer programme with which the user could design his own apartment; and he advanced the sociological definition known as the critical group-size, which deals with the communication among groups of people. Friedman also devised his own visual language and developed a method of determining and evaluating the effects of changes to the city.
He was also commissioned by UNESCO to make various studies of housing issues in Third World countries. Under the auspices of that organization, he built the Museum for Simple Technologies in Madras (India) in the early 1980s, one of the major projects covered in the exhibition. In this museum building, composed of a number of different domed structures built of bamboo, he presented his manuals containing instructions on a range of issues such as how to build roofs, how to open a tea-shop, and how to purify water.

Friedman never actively allied himself to prominent groups or movements within the world of architecture or urban planning, but through his teaching activities and publications (over 500 articles and several books), his body of ideas has nevertheless become widely diffused within various spheres of society.