Yona Friedman_ Feasable Utopia’s

Yona Friedman_ Feasable Utopia’s

“If a theory is well constructed and spread abroad, it has the advantage of no longer being the property of specialists, but of stemming from the public domain. The present-day monopoly of the architect has to do with the fact that there is no real theory, but merely a set of pseudo-theories in other words, observations which only reflect the preferences of their authors”.

“A theory must be general and valid for anybody”.

Yona Friedman

Yona Friedman

Who is Yona Friedman?

Yona Friedman is a Hungarian-French architect and theorist who design utopian projects that deal with urban planning and empowering the user. His ideas went beyond architecture and planning incorporating contemporary art, sociology and economics. Key to his work was the idea of individual freedom, that is encouraged through unpredictability, play and empowering the end-user.

Yona Friedman - Blueprint

How did he get started?

Yona Friedman was born in Hungary in 1923 and became a famous architect and urban planner in the late 50’ and early 60’. He grew up in Hungary and during the Second World War joined the resistance during the short time Germany occupied Hungary. His experience as a refugee during the 2nd WW is said to have influenced his social theories. After 10 years in Israel he decided to move permanently in Paris in 1956, here he received a favourable reception to his ideas.

Friedman’s ideas centred on an “architecture with the people, by the people, for the people.” A Democratic architecture that is conceived and materialised by the people. The architect provides ideas, techniques new aesthetics, which are validated only with the people.

The same year he presented his “Manifesto de l’architecture mobile” to the 10th International Congress of Moderne Architecture. He first presented the principles of the “mobile architecture” which is an architecture that is able to understand the constant changes of social mobility. This «architecture mobile» called «mobility of living» by the team 10, promoted planning rules that could be created and recreated, according to the need of the inhabitants and residents.


What is his why?

“I have always tried, in architectural studies, to develop projects that were feasible”

As Friedman’slater projects show, he practiced his concepts of a feasible utopia through his work with the United Nations and UNESCO on self-building manuals in Africa, South America and India. Friedman always sought to develop projects that were easy for even non-professionals to understand. He even wrote how to comics to explain how to build and make communities. 

He sees society as a utopia, which has been realized. In “Utopies Reaslisables”, and he tried to build an objective and coherent theory of social organizations. For him, utopias appear as remedies for a collective dissatisfaction. These utopias could become feasible if they get a collective agreement. 


What is his process?

It was Friedman’s emphasis on participation that set him apart from his contemporaries. The user is raised above the architect and the master builder. Friedman used his drawings as a way of expressing his ideas and developing a way to making his ideas understandable for everybody. For example with his work for the UN he developed a language of pictograms that could communicate a method of building using local materials and show information on dealing with issues ranging from water management and infrastructure to food policy.

ml_Yona Friedman_700

How is he changing the world?

He sought to widen the relevance of architecture, seeing its practice as a non-specialist discipline, at the crossroads of philosophy, ecology, spirituality, mathematics and the sciences, and relating to every area of society. He has considered that as an architect, his role is to observe individuals, their emotions and their actions, rather than to construct and impose a model. “I think like a sociologist”, he says. Human nature, is unpredictable and uncontrollable so ideal form in architecture is the very absence of planning but it should be free. So the idea of authorship becomes redundant and deceptive; instead, he encourages an organic, growing and improvised architecture, modelled on the future user, who is ultimately given the title of author and creator.

Find out more at Yona Friedman

Glasgow Global Service Design Jam

Glasgow Global Service Design Jam

Stop talking start doing!

Kill your babies!

I took part in the Glasgow Global service jam this weekend. It was a last minute decision but I’m so glad I did it. My first service jam and it was an amazing experience. Lots of lovely people and lots of lovely food.

The Global Service Jam is a yearly event where participants from a range of fields are given 48 hours to create a service that could change the world. This year was the 5th Global Service Jam. I’ve just started learning about service design but it is all about designing services around people, in order improve the relationship and interaction between the provider and the end users. The Glasgow Jam was run by Snook, the team were absolutely fantastic!
We started on Friday with the top secret brief being revealed. This year it was an image of a piece paper being folded into a fortune teller. We brainstormed words or images that came to our minds from this. First as a big group then in smaller groups, even looking at opposites to what we were coming up with. Themes soon began to emerge and we formed teams based on them. I ended up with the amazing exploration team, Team Columbus with a great group of people. It was so much fun. Each team came up with a brief and a problem we were going to explore.
We decided to explore extreme use of technology by teenagers in the Glasgow area. With a focus on products or services which offer an opportunity of alternatives to the addictive nature of digital appliances, tools and apps – with the aim of moderating such behaviours and allowing this specific age group the freedom to step out of their virtual world.

I missed most of saturday when Team Columbus went out in the street to speak to the young people of Glasgow about their technology use habits. Interestingly they found that a lot of the teens they spoke to talked about the fear of missing out.  And made the first prototype, a social space for teenagers. On sunday there was a real push to start doing, we decided to use a persona and act out a prototype. We wanted to create a modern social space, where young people could be active and technology could be incorporated to encourage meaningful interaction.
Here’s what we made!

The best part was seeing how much the ideas changed from the starting point and seeing the range of services people came up with from using drawing to alleviate awkward situations to internet free restaurants. The range of techniques we used to explore our ideas from prototypes to personas were great and we could experiment without the fear of failure. But what I learned from the weekend was to just do it instead of talking about doing it.

Thanks again Snook and Team Columbus!
John Habreken } participating in the built environment

John Habreken } participating in the built environment

Lovely documentary on Dutch Architect, theorist and professor John Habreken. He wrote a book The Supports and the People: The End of Mass Housing», where he questioned the role of the architect saying it should be about creating “supports” to be “infilled” by the individual occupant instead of the perceived all-knowing designer. It’s the idea of bottom up small-scale interventions made by people themselves.

It was interesting when he spoke about the first book, writing it without images “the truth can do without imagery.” He later made another version with diagrams and talked about the way people started to project their own world view into those diagrams.

He made great strides in promoting housing as an interesting typology and involving the users in the design process.

Participation is a paternalistic term because it implies that professionals make the world and they are willing to let the people in. The reality is it is the other way round. There is the built environment that has its own laws and has been around  for thousands of years… To what extent can the architect participate to make it better. It’s not participation of the people in the work of the architect.

There is a new dialogue with the reality of a building and the professional role. If we get feedback from it and can understand this we begin to ask ourselves what is the intervention the architect can make?

Alternative Architecture

Alternative Architecture


Image: by Grace M
By Grace M
Day 3: Tell us about something that you think should be improved
I believe that our built environment should be improved and in order for that to happen the makers of our built environment, the architects, urban planners, educators need to consider how design can empower communities and enable a self sufficient future. I was going to write a really long post on how emails should be improved (I feel like I currently spend half my time writing or answering emails). But hearing the news of Architecture for Humanity closing inspired me to write this post. It is a sad occasion. They like the social visionaries of the 50’s and 60’s practiced and promoted an architecture for the people.
Currently one-third of the population live in slums, yet the architecture profession serves only 1% of the worlds population. The wealthiest 1%. Architects are currently under the thumbs of property developers, pushing for profit. Public spaces are being privatised with the building of shopping malls, offices. Housing is getting smaller and smaller. As architect and educator, Jeremy Till says we live in an age of the capitalist production of space. Where long-term social impacts are sacrificed for short-term economic imperatives.
My Current frustration that almost none of my architect or urban designer friends, talk of the end-user and how they use the space. The main focus is on the aesthetics. The form, the light, the materials. The icon and the image, instead of people. Yet architecture is the only form of art or design that we cannot get away from.
humans of new york
Some say it’s too much to ask. Architect Zaha Hadid famously commented when asked about the worker deaths on the construction sites in Qatar, “it’s not my duty as an architect to look at it. I cannot do anything about it because I have no power to do anything about it.” But that is not enough. Architecture and city-making at its heart a political and a social practice. Therefore we need to understand our political, social and economic responsibility.
At a OMA exhibition a couple of years ago I saw a quote that has stuck with me since
The role of the creative class should be less receiving, rather broader and more faithful and responsive
– economic call
– social necessity
– moral obligation
So how do we change the profession? Firstly we need to get back to the why instead of starting with the what, as Simon Sinek says in his brilliant TED talk. We need to be a profession with vision and extend our concern from just the ‘icon’ and ‘the image’ to wider social, economic and political issues, which affect design yet are often ignored. We need to prioritise process not the product. Architecture students should be encouraged to be proactive instead of reactive. Getting out there and engaging, without waiting for permission. As designers of the built environment we should think like Muhammad Yunus, when we see spatial problem we should design a solution for it, and the best solution might not be a building. Of course it’s not just architects that need to change but those who commission it to. They also need to act as responsible clients and engaged users.
Although I talk about architects, the ideas also extend to landscape architects, urban planners and all the makers of the built environment.
There is hope. Since graduating I have become a trustee of a humanitarian design organisation and the work I’m seeing and learning about is encouraging. The growth in recent years of ideas and movements such as Public Interest Design, Design Thinking, Pop-up urbanism, humanitarian and social impact design show a wider change to long-term social concern instead of short-term economic ones. I truly believe that if we push hard enough we can make our built environment beautiful and empowering for all people in society regardless of their economic circumstances.
The Empowerment Plan

The Empowerment Plan

An inspiring example of how design and entrepreneurial thinking can make a positive social impact from the Detroit based Empowerment Plan, started by Veronika Scott, a 24 year old entrepreneur and product designer. Veronika has designed a a coat that turns into a sleeping bag for the homeless. But its more than that. She has created an organisation employs women that are homeless and sleeping in shelters, providing them with and income and hope. As she describes a woman once told her “coats are pointless we need jobs.”

sleep bag

It reminds me of a quote from Mohammad Yanus “when I see a problem I create a business to solve it.”

Find out more at http://www.empowermentplan.org/