21 February 2020

Sculpting the void

“I was often trying to define architecture as sculpting the void. Indeed the material that makes architecture is penetrable empty space. You can appreciate it from inside. But emptiness in itself is not visible. Something must contain it. Architectural space is contained generally within a box. Architect’s work is most often to conceive that box. Sculpting space can be achieved also by creating negative space, i.e. space around objects, that means space like a ‘mould’ of those objects. That work also falls into the domain of architecture. Thus technique of architects produces the box as hardware, but architecture as art is the software, space within and around the box.”

These are the words of the Hungarian architect, designer and urban planner Yona Friedman, born in 1923, to whom two Minini gallery exhibitions have been devoted, one in Milan, the other in Brescia. He was, perhaps, little known to the masses, but undoubtedly a very important figure on the international scene, brought back into the public eye over the last 15 years thanks to a revival of international artistic debate around his work as an architect, although he frequently explored other fields.

Yona Friedman studied at the Technical University in Budapest and then, from 1945 to 1948 at the Haifa Technicon, where he remained until 1957. His meeting with the German architect and theorist Konrad Wachsmann, whose studies on construction systems using prefabricated parts and on three-dimensional structures proved fundamental to his work. In 1954, along with a number of people then living in Haifa, Friedman embarked on an experiment – that never came to term – which involved housing being built by its own residents. In 1956, he was invited to take part in the 10th International Congresses of Modern Architecture (CIAM) in Dubrovnik, where for the first time he set out the principles of architecture capable of absorbing the continual transformations wrought by “social mobility” and based on “infrastructures” subject to urban housing and regulations flexible enough to be created and recreated according to the needs of the inhabitants and the residents. These ideas around adapting architecture to the ongoing changes in modern society fed into the Groupe d’Études d’Architecture Mobile, which he ran until 1962.

The two exhibitions therefore represent a further opportunity to familiarise ourselves with the huge range of Friedman’s work, which encompasses many different fields – architecture, art, biology, philosophy, sociology and writing. The exhibitions derive directly from his most recent book, Untitled, in the Preface of which Friedman wrote: “I tried to sum up my extra-architectural explorations in several of my previous books. Some are about ecology, some about sociology, and one is even about dogs. This however is the first one about art. I am of the visual kind: an image explains, for me, many things. I am known, in my professional work, for my use of simple images, cartoons or pictograms to replace texts.” His visual production stems from a more general vision in which images are used to visualise a concept and often as a substitute for texts. Some of the images on exhibit come from his old studio/apartment in Boulevard Pasteur and from his last home in Boulevard Garibaldi, both in Paris.

The two-pronged exhibition, curated by Maurizio Bortolotti, is also intended to put specific focus on the idea of community, fleshed out in new architectural models, and which in recent years has centred on migrant shelters, in a powerful commitment to reshaping our philosophy of life. A fundamental rethinking of the relationship between human beings and their environment is what informs Friedman’s vast body of work, with visual production at the heart of his radical approach.

Sculpting the Void

On until 14th March
Galleria Francesca Minini
25 Via Privata Massimiano, Milan
www.francescaminini.it

On until 28th March
Galleria Massimo Minini
68 Via Apollonio, Brescia
www.galleriaminini.it

#architecture, #exhibition, #Yona Friedman