Book Review: Pro Domo

Pro Domo by Yona Friedman
Actar, 2006

The cover of this monograph on artist/architect/urbanist Yona Friedman provides two snippets of its contents: a portion of the Friedman's "Warning to the reader" that begins the book and a sketch of his proposal for a "bridge-town" over the Huangpu River in Shanghai. The text hints not only at the admittedly fragmentary nature of the numerous selections, but also the mix of the serious and levity. This also comes across in the sketch, a serious proposal for something truly fantastical that's illustrated in a cartoonish way that most architects or urbanists would not venture to share to the public. But even though Friedman admits that the book is fragmentary, and the reader doesn't always know whether to take his projects seriously or not, the book (and it is a book) is a cohesive document of Friedman's life.
As the cover is presented as a balance of image and text, this is also the case inside. While there are a number of selections (Interview with Myself, United Nations papers) where images cannot be found, the majority of the book is a balance of words and mainly sketches. The latter ultimately wins the battle between the two -- if such a battle were to take place -- because Friedman's sketches, models, diagrams, and numerous cartoons capture the ideas of the designer more than his words can do. The cities raised overhead, the structures infilled by the various occupants over the wishes of architects and planners, the Parisian and other cityscapes montaged with Friedman's megastructures, all of these strike chords in the reader more than the rather dry text. And it's his designs and imagery that hold the book together, both apparently unchanging over the 50+ years (and counting) of Friedman's career. It's quite an interesting story, in pictures.