of departure…

Yona Friedman – The Paris-based architect‘s visions for transport systems and superstructures have influenced generations of artists concerned with utopia.

Lesson / Koan :

In 1958, Yona Friedman published his first manifesto : “Mobile architecture”. It described a new kind of mobility not of the buildings, but for the inhabitants, who are given a new freedom.

Mobile architecture is the “dwelling decided on by the occupant” by way of “infrastructures that are neither determined nor determining”. Mobile architecture embodies an architecture available for a “mobile society”.

The teaching of architecture post World War II was largely responsible for the “classical” architect’s under-estimation of the role of the user. Friedman proposed teaching manuals on the fundamentals of architecture for the general public.

The spatial city, which is a materialization of this theory, makes it possible for everyone to develop his or her own hypothesis. This is why, in the mobile city, buildings should :

  1. touch the ground over a minimum area
  2. be capable of being dismantled and moved
  3. and be alterable as required by the individual occupant.

In 1960, Yona Friedman proposed “The Spatial City” the most significant application of his idea of “mobile architecture”. It is a spatial, three-dimensional structure raised up on piles which contains inhabited volumes, fitted inside some of the “voids”, alternating with other unused volumes. It is designed on the basis of trihedral elements which operate as “neighbourhoods” where dwellings are freely distributed.

This structure introduce a kind of merger between countryside and city.

  • certain unavailable sites,
  • areas where building is not possible or permitted (expanses of water, marshland),
  • areas that have already been built upon (an existing city),
  • above farmland.

The Spatial City forms what Yona Friedman would call an “artificial topography“. This grid suspended in space outlines a new cartography of the terrain with the help of a continuous and indeterminate homogeneous network.


Yona Friedman is his Paris apartment 2008.

Yona Friedman’s apartment itself is a work of art.

Stuck to the walls are Matisse-like cut-outs with captions in English.

The First Simple Truth: We Cannot Understand The Universe,’ reads one.

The Second Simple Truth: We Do Not Need To Understand the Universe’ reads the next.

The Third Simple Truth is unfortunately hidden behind a pile of spent light bulbs arranged in a bowl. And that’s just the front room.

The rest of the apartment is an orientalist collage.


A gifted self-promoter, Friedman wrote and lectured extensively, and in the early 1960s his ideas began to be discussed worldwide, especially in Japan where they were adopted by Kenzo Tange and exponents of ‘metabolist’ architecture.

In Yona Friedman’s own words “The city, as a mechanism, is thus nothing other than a labyrinth : a configuration of points of departure, and terminal points, separated by obstacles“.