Born in 1923, Yona Friedman, an architect, urbanist and philosopher of Hungarian origin, has been living in Paris since 1957. He studied at the Institute of Technology in Budapest, Hungary, and in Haifa, Israel. His unique approach to architecture and urbanism seems to stem from his engineering training and the particular and experimental context produced by the birth of a State.

Fairly early on he introduced the theory of “self-planning”, whereby dwelling design is based on the experience of its users, thus going against the grain of post-war functionalism and its massive, uniform constructions. This then gave rise to the concept of “mobile architecture” (as defined in Friedman’s eponymous 1958 manifesto): the architect limits his activity to designing the essential aspects of a construction - the immobile property (l’immobilier) - namely, the foundations and structure, whereas the other elements can, like movable house furnishings (le mobilier), be freely arranged by the user.

He has also conducted several missions on behalf of the United Nations, notably in the then developing countries (South Africa, Asia, India), enabling him to apply the theses developed in his 1978 essay A philosophy of poverty.

Following the idea that we are all potential “self-planners”, in the domestic sphere as well as in the wider society, the architect has tried to adapt and present his positions via several media such as posters, films or publications. He has published almost thirty essays in which he presents his theses in plain, effective language, while his manuals illustrate the same ideas with pictographs. Along the years these have come to form the basic motifs of the universal language developed by Yona Friedman.

Acknowledgments to Marie-Cécile Burnichon.