Yona Friedman (*1923) developed his concept of Ville spatiale, the Spatial City, on the basis of two elementary thoughts: Architecture should only provide a framework, in which the inhabitants might construct their homes according to their needs and ideas, free from any paternalism by a master builder. Furthermore, he was convinced that the progressing automation of production and, resulting from that, the increasing amount of leisure time would fundamentally change society. The traditional structure of the city, according to Friedman, is not equipped for the new society. He suggested mobile, temporary and lightweight structures instead of the rigid, inflexible and expensive means of traditional architecture.

Yona Friedman, La ville spatiale, 1960, Collage

As a reaction to the 10th CIAM congress 1956 in Dubrovnik and Team 10’s indifference towards mobile architecture, Freedman founded the Groupe d’Etudes d’Architecture Mobile (GEAM) in 1958. Among the members were David Georges Emmerich, Camille Frieden, Günter Günschel, Oskar Hansen, Jean Pierre Pecquet, Eckhard Schulze-Fielitz and Werner Ruhnau. Eckhard Schulze-Fielitz, his collaborator in the project of a bridge city across the English Channel, introduced him to Constant in 1960.

A whole series of formal similarities between Constant's New Babylon and Ville spatiale can be identified. Simply in the presentation of their ideas, in the form of drawing-like collages and sculptural models, the two continental Europeans, Constant and Friedman display similarities; the mixture of pop and hi-tech characteristic of the Archigram designs remain alien to them. New Babylon and Ville spatiale are both raised on slender supports up above the earth; independent structures suspended over the old cities and the landscape. But the participatory aspect distinguishes Friedman ideas from Constant’s vision, which partly had authoritarian character.

Yona Friedman, La Ville spatiale, 1960, Collage

In 1960 Friedman published his two seminal manifestos, Architecture Mobile and La Ville spatiale. He defines the function of the space frame as follows: Critical for the Ville Spatial is what I call ‘spatial infrastructure’: a multi-storey space-frame-grid, which is supported by widely-spaced piles […]. This infrastructure forms the fixed element of the city. The mobile element consists of walls, base-surfaces and dividing walls which make the individual division of the space possible; it could be called the ‘filling’ for the infrastructure. All elements which come into direct contact with the users (i.e. those they see, touch etc.) are mobile, in contrast to the infrastructure, which is used collectively and remains fixed. (1)

Friedman began investigating mobile structures soon after the Second World War. With Panel Chains (1945) and Movable Boxes (1949) he developed a simple architecture made from prefabricated elements, intended to meet the basic housing needs of the people made homeless by war and Nazi rule. The elements were cheap to manufacture, easily transported and highly variable. With these designs, Friedman laid the foundation stone for his architectural philosophy, at the centre of which stood the needs of the inhabitants, architecture being seen always as an emancipatory structure. In the 1970s he expanded his Architecture mobile for developing countries with self utility-provision systems and dedicated himself to teaching and developing simple architecture using local materials and building techniques.


(1) Yona Friedman, Architecture Mobile, 1960, quoted in Ruth Eaton, Ideal Cities: Utopianism and the (Un)built Environment, London 2002.