Frei Otto

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Frei Otto
Frei Paul Otto

(1925-05-31)31 May 1925
Siegmar, Saxony, Germany
Died9 March 2015(2015-03-09) (aged 89)

Frei Paul Otto (German: [fʁaɪ ˈʔɔtoː]; 31 May 1925 – 9 March 2015) was a German architect and structural engineer noted for his use of lightweight structures, in particular tensile and membrane structures, including the roof of the Olympic Stadium in Munich for the 1972 Summer Olympics.

Otto won the RIBA Royal Gold Medal in 2006 and was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2015, shortly before his death.

Early life[edit]

Otto was born in Siegmar [de], Germany, and grew up in Berlin. He studied architecture in Berlin before being drafted into the Luftwaffe as a fighter pilot in the last years of World War II. He was interned in a prisoner of war camp near Chartres (France) and with his aviation engineering training and lack of material and an urgent need for housing, began experimenting with tents for shelter.[1] After the war he studied briefly in the US and visited Erich Mendelsohn, Mies van der Rohe, Richard Neutra, and Frank Lloyd Wright.


1972 Munich Olympic Stadium

He began a private practice in Germany in 1952. He earned a doctorate in tensioned constructions in 1954.[1] His saddle-shaped cable-net music pavilion at the Bundesgartenschau (Federal Garden Exposition) in Kassel 1955[2] brought him his first significant attention.

Otto specialised in lightweight tensile and membrane structures, and pioneered advances in structural mathematics and civil engineering.[1] In 1958, Otto taught at Washington University in St. Louis' Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts where he met Buckminster Fuller.[3] Otto founded the Institute for Lightweight Structures at the university of Stuttgart in 1964 and headed the institute until his retirement as university professor.[1] Major works include the West German Pavilion at the Montreal Expo in 1967 and the roof of the 1972 Munich Olympic Arena. He has lectured worldwide and taught at the Architectural Association School of Architecture, where he also designed some of the research facilities buildings of the school's forest campus in Hooke Park.[4]

Until his death, Otto remained active as an architect and engineer, and as consultant to his protégé Mahmoud Bodo Rasch for a number of projects in the Middle East. One of his more recent projects was his work with Shigeru Ban on the Japanese Pavilion at Expo 2000 with a roof structure made entirely of paper, and together with SL Rasch GmbH Special and Lightweight Structures he designed a convertible roof for the Venezuelan Pavilion.[4] In an effort to memorialise the September 11 attacks and its victims as early as 2002, Otto envisioned the two footprints of the World Trade Center buildings covered with water and surrounded by trees; his plan includes a world map embedded in the park with countries at war marked with lights and a continuously updated board announcing the number of people killed in war from 11 September 2001, onward.[5]

On request of Christoph Ingenhoven, Otto designed the "Light eyes" for Stuttgart 21.[6] – drop-shaped overlights in the park, that descend onto the tracks to support the ceiling.[7][8] Otto remarked in 2010 that the construction should be stopped because of the difficult geology.[9][10]

Otto died on 9 March 2015; he was to be publicly announced as the winner of the 2015 Pritzker Prize on 23 March but his death meant the committee announced his award on 10 March.[11][12] Otto himself had been told earlier that he had won the prize by the executive director of the Pritzker Prize, Martha Thorne. He was reported to have said, "I've never done anything to gain this prize. Prize winning is not the goal of my life. I try to help poor people, but what shall I say here — I'm very happy."[12]

List of buildings[edit]

This is a partial list of buildings designed by Otto:[12]

Awards (selected)[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Biography: Frei Otto". The Hyatt Foundation. Archived from the original on 9 November 2017. Retrieved 11 March 2015.
  2. ^ Contemporary architects. Muriel Emanuel, Dennis Sharp. New York: St. Martin's Press. 1980. p. 600. ISBN 0-312-16635-4. OCLC 6483421.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  3. ^ Peltason, Ruth; Ong-Yan, Grace (7 November 2017). Architect: The Pritzker Prize Laureates in Their Own Words. Running Press. ISBN 978-0-316-47369-9. Archived from the original on 6 July 2021. Retrieved 16 November 2023.
  4. ^ a b c "Frei Otto". Praemium Imperiale. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 11 March 2015.
  5. ^ Fong, Mei (11 January 2002). "From Parks to Twisted Towers, Designs for a Memorial Multiply". Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
  6. ^ "Meilenstein in Stuttgart: Erster Musterkelch wurde betoniert". ingenhoven architects. 18 March 2016. Archived from the original on 23 July 2021. Retrieved 28 September 2020.
  7. ^ Werner Sobek: S21 Tiefbahnhof Stuttgart. Archived 13 June 2017 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Video: Animation. Stuttgart 21 – Ein Bahnhof kommt unter die Erde. Archived 8 November 2017 at the Wayback Machine and pictures: Großprojekt Stuttgart 21: Wie der Bahnhof einmal aussehen soll. Archived 16 June 2021 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Hans Monath, Andreas Böhme: Bahn soll bei Stuttgart 21 Notbremse ziehen. Archived 29 August 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Stuttgart 21-Architekt fordert den sofortigen Baustopp. Archived 20 May 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ a b "Frei Otto, 2015 Laureate". Pritzker Architecture Prize. 10 March 2015. Archived from the original on 11 March 2015. Retrieved 11 March 2015.
  12. ^ a b c d Pritzker Prize for Frei Otto, German Architect, Announced After His Death Archived 3 February 2018 at the Wayback Machine, Robin Pogrebin, The New York Times, 10 March 2015
  13. ^ Cramer, James P.; Yankopolus, Jennifer Evans (2005). Almanac of Architecture & Design 2006. Greenway Communications. p. 720. ISBN 978-0-9755654-2-1.
  14. ^ a b Barnes, Michael; Dickson, Michael (1 November 2000). Widespan Roof Structures. ICE Publishing. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-7277-2877-7. Archived from the original on 16 November 2023. Retrieved 23 September 2020.
  15. ^ "Bund Deutscher Architektinnen und Architekten BDA". Bund Deutscher Architektinnen und Architekten BDA (in German). Retrieved 18 November 2023.
  16. ^ The man with the golden pen,, 2005 issue 08

Further reading[edit]

  • Conrad Roland: Frei Otto – Spannweiten. Ideen und Versuche zum Leichtbau. Ein Werkstattbericht von Conrad Roland. Ullstein, Berlin, Frankfurt/Main und Wien 1965.
  • Philip Drew: Frei Otto – Form and Structure, 1976, ISBN 0-258-97053-7, ISBN 978-0-258-97053-9
  • Philip Drew: Tensile Architecture, 1979, ISBN 0-258-97012-X, ISBN 978-0-258-97012-6
  • Muriel Emanuel, Dennis Sharp: "Contemporary Architects", New York: St. Martin's Press. 1980. p. 600. ISBN 0-312-16635-4
  • Frei Otto, Bodo Rasch: Finding Form: Towards an Architecture of the Minimal, 1996, ISBN 3-930698-66-8
  • Winfried Nerdinger: Frei Otto, Complete Works: Lightweight Construction – Natural Design, 2005, ISBN 3-7643-7231-1, ISBN 978-3-7643-7231-6 - published on the occasion of the exhibition Frei Otto Lightweight Construction, Natural Design at the Architekturmuseum der Technischen Universität München in der Pinakothek der Moderne from 26 May to 28 August 2005, and cataloguing over 200 buildings and projects dating from the years 1951-2004

External links[edit]