Life and profession

early years
Yona Friedman was born in 1923 in Budapest (Hungary). After World War II he briefly lived and worked in Israel where he was confronted with the rapid development of mass housing. The confinement and anonymity of the individual in such designs inspired him to take a new approach to the need for housing vast amounts of people in ever growing cities.

taking on the professional field
Initially in 1949, Friedman started exploring the possibilities of prefabricated housing with flexible lay-out, and forms of temporary housing. While gaining experience both as a construction worker and as an architect in mass housing projects in Isreal, Friedman considered the possibilities to design and create this mass housing in such a way that the future inhabitants would be able to design and redesign their private living units. This should be technically executed in such a way, that it was possible to adjust the lay-out of the individual apartments and rooms at any given moment, without professional assistance. Friedman titled this concept Mobile Architecture.

He addressed his colleagues in the field on congresses and found many of them to be too engrossed in their profession to come up with solutions that were innovative enough to change the course of development. Friedman rose to prominence with his manifesto L’Architecture Mobile and his idea for La Ville Spatiale. He aimed to provide maximum flexibility through huge ‘superstructures’ over existing cities and other locations. Future inhabitants were free to construct their dwellings within these structures.

Friedman decided to take residence in Paris (France), where he since then lives and works. He became a naturalized French citizen in 1966

outside the box
Friedman’s ideas kept evolving and led him beyond architecture. His sphere of engagement broadened to sociology, economics, mathematics, information science, planning, visual art and film-making. Although Friedman’s oeuvre would seem to encompass a wide field, all his life he has adhered to principles based on the requirement of individual freedom and responsible use of the environment.
self determination of the individual
In embracing the principle of unpredictability of human behavior, he has always sought to provide people with the knowledge and structures to determine their own living environment and to enhance their independence and self reliance, also in difficult situations like shanty towns. Among the means devised by Friedman were manuals that illustrate basic skills in the fields of architecture, urban planning and administration for the non-specialist.

proposing instead of designing
His many proposals for architectural projects are intended to inspire people within the field and out; “to get people to think”. Thus his contribution to the topics addressed have mainly been expressed in drawings, models and writing and many contributions to exhibitions worldwide. He characterizes himself as “a professional non professional”, taking the freedom to include many subjects in his visions.

ideas and visions
Friedman seeks to be of use to others to create new visions and to think outside the box and find new solutions for problems that we are facing in our world. He feels involved in the world and it’s developments and he works to adjust and enhance his principles to contribute to finding solutions with the technical and social possibilities of today’s world. Throughout his proposals he combines the maximum freedom of the individual with the principle of the scale of local communities and with freedom to exercise the life of a world citizen by means of easy access to the bigger environment of the city and far beyond.

style of expression
Friedman tries to bring complex themes within grasp, using a very accessible style of expression. He uses drawings that can be understood at first glance, and unfolds the consequences of his thinking step by step, by introducing complexity without losing sight of the starting point. He means to give ideas for others to use freely, without keeping anyone in check to reach any other goal than their own. Complexity, irregularity have fascinated Friedman throughout his working life. The unpredictability of behavior and the representation of individual choices are keynotes in his thinking. Also he feels that these qualities function contribute to the esthetics of the man made world.

feeding inspiration
Friedman’s work is an invitation to seeing and considering topics with fresh eyes. In this way he addressed many audiences on congresses and universities. He likes to involve people in his thinking and come to a dialogue. Often he uses little jokes, many times expressed by his dog Balkis. He feels Balkis has a knowledge of life that exceeds his (and our) thinking by far and is entitled to be baffled by our inconsistencies and to comment accordingly.

art is play
Throughout his life Friedman liked to play. He made stories and free artwork of which the interior of his house is the ultimate expression. His dreaming is often represented by “the unicorn”, the magical manifestation of a way of life that takes love, friendship and peace on an adventure. Also he made animation films with his wife Denise Charven, using an inventive technique of cubicles.
Friedman developed his own hieroglyphic writing, translating the first chapter of the Bible, Genesis, in order to make it decipherable for others.

Later in life Friedman’s creative production was recognized as artwork and exhibited as such. He has taken on the creating of Merz-like structures using waste products. Recently the unicorn and Balkis were subject of land art themes that are still being created through the landscape of France. Also he exercises a close collaboration with the filmmaker Jean Baptiste Decavèle expressing the relations of the unicorn and Balkis with places in the world.