Hans Ulrich Obrist: Who are the philosophers and thinkers who gave you ideas? Was Foucault an inspiration for you? Or Deleuze?

Yona Friedman: I have had one very important intellectual guide: my dog. A dog spends its whole life improvising. Improvising in every situation.

With the following statement opens Yona Friedman his latest publication: Architecture with the People, by the People, for the People. [RODRÍGUEZ, MI (ed.) / OBRIST, HU / FRAMPTON, K / ORAZI, M (contributors), AA MUSAC – Actar, 2011]. It is a compilation of his most remarkable projects since the 1950s, such as the megastructural Ville Spatiale, a city with no real façade where Architecture and Urban Design become interior design within the infrastructure; and some of the most recent ones, like the brilliant Museum of the Afghan Civilisation, 2008. The idea of the hybridised BridgeTown always being present, either if it spans over the English Channel or Shanghai’s Huang Pu River.

< I chose this title as it paraphrases Lincoln’s definition of democracy, a definition that is just but seldom implemented. If I had to qualify my approach to architecture, I see it as “democratic” in the sense of Lincoln’s interpretation. Architecture has to be conceived with the people, materialised as much as possible by the people. The term “for the people” is evident. This does not mean that the architect has no role in the process: he can provide ideas, techniques, new aesthetics – which will get validated only with the people, by the people, for the people. By the way, architects are also people…belong to the people. > Yona Friedman.

One of his feasible utopias (Utopies réalisables) also featured in the book is Métropole Europe. Métropole Europe should become the “biggest non-city in the world”, a network of large cities connected to each other by systems of fast trains, (with moderate prices and high frequency of trains), which would enable a more fluid mobility of citizens, the social fabric would be restructured and new strategies would be considered in the labour market and cultural life. Is London a suburb of Paris? A simple political decision in the European sphere would allow to link the two Europes that operate at different speeds and were brought to light by the economic crisis of 2008: the Northern countries and what British economists began to call the P.I.G.S. (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain). For Friedman, every utopia can be feasible if we reach the necessary consensus. But at the same time, participation when taking decisions for the living environment, doesn’t mean for him that somebody handles the whole process: in architecture it’s impossible for the architect to do what the user wants. The only solution is to have a technique in which the user does what he wants and there are no middlemen.

The highlight of the book is without doubt the pictures of Yona’s home, depicting endless amounts of beautiful tiny everyday objects, the beauty of which simply relies on the accumulation of different textures: transparent, shiny, rusty, cheap plastic, glossy…  It is almost impossible to distinguish models, from objects, or inspirational drawings; perhaps all of them simply configure his whole life project. One has the feeling that his house would look totally different only a few weeks after the photos were taken. This approach to furnishing applied to his own on-going housing environment perfectly matches his vision of micro-sociological tactics for cities:

< Architecture would also introduce the “changeability” of the city, the possibility of continually rearranging the urban plan of the quarter without recourse to demolition. The mobility of the urban plan should, as far as possible, be like that of furniture. >

Another relevant topic featured in this publication is the approach to the concept of a museum. Yona Friedman regards the museum of a civilisation of the 21st century as the city, understood as an ideal archive for the future accessible to everyone. In his multiple concepts for contemporary forms of museums, there is always a special call for simplicity, participation and circulation of viewers. The true prototype for a museum, for me, is simply a street, any street. […] We have to re-invent the street as museum; a collection of everyday objects in everyday use.


[1-3> Yona’s house, photographed by Michel Mallard Studio 2011][4> Ville Spatiale_Yona Friedman 1958-1962][5>Gangway bridges with exhibits of the Museum of Afghan Civilisation_Yona Friedman 2008][6>Continent-City Europe_Yona Friedman 1960+1994]

To watch more of his short drawing-movies, visit Yona’s website:


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  1. Pingback: Snabbfix – 11 September 2011 :: Olof :: Konst, kommunikation och internet.

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