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A New Context

Yona Friedman / 2008

Such an architecture permits a quasi-infinite variety of combinations: a new aesthetics

Yona Friedman, still from A New Aesthetics, 2008

I think in order to talk about architecture we have to start with a very simple fact: architecture is simply an epiphenomenon of something more general, a deep context, so before getting to some conclusion on architecture, I will try to describe this context.
The first thing is that the territoriality of states is slowly disappearing. You know, a state is defined judicially by a territory; it is an organisation between clearly set borders. For example, for a state to belong to the United Nations, it has to have a clearly set territory. But this territorial state is losing its power more and more. The world is governed by something different, a different organisation, not clearly identified, which is not territorial. We have in history only one example of a non-territorial state – the Catholic Church. It had a very small territory and for a long time was a governing element for the known world at that time. Now we are governed, so newspapers tell us, by finance, commerce, trade agreement and so on. That is undeniable. But this organisation is not a clearly set body; you cannot tell who directs, who makes the policy, who is responsible. It is more an oligarchy, a rather small organisation, relative to the global size, which is implanted everywhere. It is an unclear situation, as we don’t seem to know by whom we are governed. Yes, we can determine that this or that financial organisation is governed by this or that person, but the whole, the network which makes things happen, is not clearly governed. So this is the first element. The second important element of what we are talking about is information. We are saying all the time that the world is governed by information. Sure, but we shouldn’t forget that information is not clearly said, because, for example, when media talk about information, they are thinking only about the emitter, but information becomes information only when it arrives to a receiver. But what does the receiver understand from the information he gets? What is his interpretation? It is a complete insecurity. This information world, the information network, produces insecurity. You know that there are lots of things and too much of which is emitted, and you don’t know who receives what information and how he or she will interpret it. So we have a complete incertitude and flux; we are living in a hazy world. This leads me to the next element – ecology.
We don’t have a global image about ecology. All political ecological movements concentrate themselves on this or that point, but there is no global centre. My point of view is that the real problem with ecology, let us call it an eco-policy, is a mental problem. All through for centuries, we have considered ourselves as conquerors: we had to conquer nature. I think that the right answer would be very, very different – to adapt ourselves to nature instead of conquering it. What does this mean? Conquering nature means that we impose our conditions on the environment; adapting to environment means that we accept the conditions of our environment, and we adapt our way of life for it.
I will take a very important element, heating. This is quite important for our consideration later for architecture, as architecture is conceived as a closed box in which you create a climate that you consider adapted to your survival. The biggest energy waste we have is to create this artificial climate within the closed box. There would be another attitude, which is followed by nearly all the other species: this is to follow the climate, to migrate. Today, taking United Nations statistics, about 80 % of the world population lives in areas where you don’t need heating. Rich people go to these places because they can afford it, and poor people stay in these areas because they cannot live if they go out of them. All the shanty towns of the world are in the hot countries; there are no shanty towns in Siberia – it’s impossible. So I think that if we have less climatic production, for example, simply umbrellas in hot zones, it can be possible. In temperate zones, it would be logical that for the winter time people migrate to another area climatically more favourable. This is possible in today’s world, because most of the work can be done at a distance. Work at a distance, work that doesn’t need direct physical interface, is more and more the fact. The reason for this is that the bulk of what humans produce today is immaterial. For example, finance is not material, thought is not material. This means that there is only a very small part of production that involves effective physical presence.
The same thing about social contact. Socially, surely people speak more through mobile phones than they speak directly. If I look at a street in Paris, older people too are giving their monologue to their mobile phone. That means their social life happens in large part without the physical presence of their social partner. This is noteworthy. In the old city schemes, there was a very important element, the forum, the physical meeting place. Today, the forum is not effective anymore. People have an immaterial, a virtual, forum. For example, the Champs-Élysées in the I9th century was a sort of a forum where people of certain classes met, and there were many others like this. I am saying the Champs-Élysées because it is the best-known. Today, the Champs-Élysées is not a forum anymore. The forum is somewhere in space through the mobile phone.
So these elements obviously change our outlook on the possibility of the development of the epiphenomenon that is architecture – the closed-in box is less necessary. Proximity, which was the basis of city-forming, is less and less necessary. You don’t need to be very near to your neighbour. The neighbourhood becomes a virtual thing. Technically, there is one other element which is important: proximity was imposed on, if you want, town planning or area planning, because of the networks, but now you don’t need the physical network anymore, you don’t need, really, the phone network, it is in your pocket. You don’t need to use the electricity network too much, since many of your instruments work on battery. It is very easy to imagine areas that you will charge once in a month and make them full, like you do today to your car, so, again, proximity is not necessary. You do not need to have, for example, a fuel dump next door to you – it can be 50 kilometres away.
So it is the loosening of this network which leads us to a new image of the city and a new image of architecture. What this image is, I cannot tell you. I can only show with a few models how I am trying to look at it. I am simply talking about this development since it will determine, really, what the coming architecture will be.
There is another element that is important, and that I am calling the routine. Routine is something we have nearly unchanged in the last c. 20,000 years. For example, social grouping is a routine. We will not get rid of it. It’s not a question of discussing whether this or that social grouping is better; we cannot get rid of our routine. The way of our behaviour, our daily behaviour, is a routine: we are eating and sleeping practically in the same way as our ancestors 5,000 years ago. I was speaking earlier about territoriality. There is another territoriality, which is the routine territoriality. This can be the family or the tribal territoriality. This is important; this will not disappear. So when I was speaking about the coming architecture with all the new elements, at the same time I have to think about the family territoriality or the group territoriality, which will stay. I don’t know what kind of city we will live in, I don’t know what kind of architecture there will be, but the family cohabitation is a fact and will not change. It will have another legal status that is secondary. The group, the small group, cohabitation, territoriality – I am calling it the urban village – also will not change. But what will be the agglomeration of urban villages wherein proximity is not necessary anymore? This is an open question. I am not pretending to give a solution for it.
In all my practical life in architecture, I was proposing possible solutions, but I know that there are only tentative solutions, and I think that the important thing is to understand that architecture in itself is not important. It’s only a manifestation of a deeper context. Architecture and shoes are about the same importance, but perhaps the shoe might be more important because if the shoe causes pain for your feet, you react immediately. If the architecture is not really comfortable, you put up with it for many years. So don’t overestimate architecture: architecture is not important … it is only the visible part of a context, which in itself is very important and which is out of our control.
Climate, governments, communication and technology are out of our control, so they are a part of the general environment, because environment is not only nature, but also the man-made environment. We can do nothing else but to adapt to it as well as we can. What I was trying to do with this talk was to give an incitement, to try to see the things broadly, and that’s all.

Dieser Text erschien zuerst in: Serpentine Gallery Manifesto Marathon, 2008.

[Dieser Text findet sich im Reader Nr. 1 auf S. 205.]

[Es sind keine weiteren Materialien zu diesem Beitrag hinterlegt.]

Yona Friedman

(*1932 Budapest) ist französischer Architekt und Visionär. Friedmans Arbeiten umfassen städteplanerische Modelle, theoretische Texte, Film, Animationsfilm. Bedeutende Ausstellungen umfassen mehrere Kunstbiennalen (u. a. Shanghai, Venedig) und die documenta 11 2002 in Kassel. 1958 veröffentlichte er das Manifest „L’Architecture Mobile“, das zugleich als Gründungsdokument der „Groupe d’étude d’architecture mobile (GEAM)“ anzusehen ist, und entwickelte Raumstadtkonzepte wie „La Ville Spatiale“. Die Ideen dieser Manifeste waren visionär und seiner Zeit weit voraus; die Megastrukturen über bestehende Städte, in denen die Bewohner der Zukunft ihre Lebensumwelt flexibel gestalten sollten, beschäftigten Generationen von Architekten und Stadtplanern.


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Friedman, Yona