Yona Friedman interpreted by Niccolò Casiddu, director of DAD, University of Genoa, Italy

By Tiziana Casapietra

This conversation with Niccolò Casiddu, Director of the Architecture and Design Dep. of the University of Genoa, Italy, is part of the project “Inside Yona Friedman’s ceramic city” conceived by Tiziana Casapietra, and made by the Savona Ceramics Museum and DAD with the intention to provide a virtual tour of Yona Friedman’s ceramics work “Città/City” as part of the Museum’s permanent collection. Special thanks go to the Fonds de Dotation Denise et Yona Friedman and Jean-Baptiste Decavèle for their invaluable contribution and to Hans-Ulrich Obrist for inviting Yona Friedman to the 2002 Biennale of Ceramics in Contemporary Art during which Friedman produced his “Città”.

Tiziana Casapietra: So, Niccolò, firstly I wanted to say that I’m delighted with this work, and it has been a bit of a disappointment that we haven’t been able to use the VR glasses straight away, because of the obvious restrictions of the pandemic. But I would like us to go back a bit to the time when I asked you whether you thought being able to enter Yona Friedman’s city was interesting — to be able to experience it from the inside — to make use of this ceramic city: what you thought, how you worked, how you approached this project, whether you’re happy with the results… your view on all of it really. 
Niccolò Casiddu: I must say that when you suggested creating a supplementary and contemporary way to experience Yona’s work, it immediately opened up some very interesting and particularly fascinating ideas. It was also relevant because as the director of a Department of Architecture and Design, you gave me a chance to bring the institution closer to the work and thought of a modern and contemporary master who also had a vision of the future. Therefore the idea of being able to try and use instruments of contemporary technology and all they offer to make Yona’s ideas more approachable and experiential using a contemporary language was immediately both extremely challenging as well as very fascinating. The work did lend itself particularly well to this process – it is a work of architecture translated an artistic ceramic model. Since it is already a tridimensional model, it almost makes you to want to visit it and enter inside it, but the dimensions and the delicacy of the work clearly don’t allow this. So the possibility of virtualising and visualising a tour of the work with the help of these visors, which can be operated at different levels of technological sophistication, enable entering, living, inhabiting the places imagined by this master of architecture — this is something that is so interesting and I believe it can and will be, as soon as we can get past these times of restricted personal contact, a very real immersive experience of Yona’s message, and therefore an experience of growth for the visitors, in as much as they will develop their understanding of the work. It has definitely been an extraordinary experience for everyone who has collaborated on this; a group of young researchers in the university department worked together on the three dimensional graphics to digitalise it and then to render it experiential through the virtual reality system. This project has given everyone who worked on it the opportunity for extraordinary development. I believe that when people engage with the instruments and experience of entering the work, they will perceive this because very refined sophisticated technical development was required to create the product, but there is also an extra something that comes from the stimulus, I would like to call it the emotion which comes from being in contact with work and a message like Yona’s, which is carried by the small masterpiece of art like the one in the museum. So this has been our journey. Clearly we have been working on this during the pandemic so it has been a lot bumpier than anticipated; but this also led us to try to find ways of experiencing the work which in some ways overcome the limits and curtailments imposed by the laws of distancing, safety and hygiene imposed due to the pandemic. So this drove us to develop beyond the first established instrument, which was a virtual reality visor. We have incorporated other instruments to convey the experience, which you can even put together yourself – so you can have an experience within the experience – you can make something in order to use it to enter this place, which on the one hand is dreamlike, a little how Yona had imagined it, but it is also very practical because it is a real city you can actually enter. There is a virtual form; there is a sensation of the physicality of the places you move in and find your way around.

TC: I’d like to ask you about Yona Friedman’s teachings, and as the Director of the University Department of Architecture, whether you see that these teachings which don’t celebrate architecture so much as celebrate existence, and therefore the life within the architecture, whether in your opinion these teachings have in some way been taken on board or have they been regarded with suspicion — what sort of relationship is there to the architectural ideas which make up the teachings of Yona Friedman?
NC: I can give a completely personal response – so I can tell you the way I have been affected by Yona’s teachings and how I view their relevance in 2021. My view is that Yona was pioneer, and like all pioneers he risked being misunderstood because since the beginning of time pioneers have always been ahead of their time, a moment ahead of being able to be understood, a moment ahead of being able to be accepted, ahead of being able to make an immediate impact or achieve results with their ideas and their work. But without these forerunners there would be no progress. And therefore in all these cases we must have a little patience and wait for times to mature. For example today let us think about something which everyone is talking about right now; everyone is talking about the New European Bauhaus, President Von Der Leyen’s message of beauty, sustainability, and inclusion. I must say that when the president made this proposal to guide a new vision for Europe for the 2030s, I like to think that her ideas are taken from having read or seen something by Yona, because his ideas already contain all of this.  Yona’s work already included all of this in more innocent times, when no one was talking about these things — his attention to even the smallest details, to inclusion and participation, sustainability of what we do, of localisation in situations that do not necessarily get you on the front cover of glossy magazines. In my opinion he has already included everything — if someone takes the time to go and look at Yona’s wonderful drawings and listen to his interviews or read his ideas, they will find what we currently understand as being the only possible way forward for the next few years. This is what I have seen and found from getting closer to Yona’s work. It has above all been a great personal enrichment for me as well as a great validation, given that these days people are talking precisely about these ideas. It has become almost consolidated as fact, and because it has almost become an inalienable and  consolidated fact– this shows me that the pioneer had a true and farsighted vision of the times.

TC: Ok, thank you Niccolò.

Translated from Italian by Rosemary McKisack

The project “Inside Yona Friedman’s ceramic city” is the result of a collaboration between


With the support of

Editing: Giulia Macchiarella

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