Week 11b—Frei Otto and his philosophy

Frei Paul Otto (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 it is so sad for him to be awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2015, shortly before his death.

FIG. 1
frei otto sketching in his studio circa 1970 (atelier frei otto warmbronn)

FIG. 2
Roofing for main sports facilities in the Munich Olympic Park for the 1972 Summer Olympics (Dezeen Magazine)

To learn more about Otto’s multidisciplinary approach to architecture as well as his emphasis on experimentation, we turned to an interview he did with Juan María Songel in 2004, published in the book A Conversation with Frei Otto. In the interview, Otto discusses numerous topics of interest and relevance to architecture in the 21st century, and in particular the importance of experimentation and research, declaring: “Productive research must be brave!”

Otto begins the interview by sharing his thoughts on the idea that there are “infinite discoveries to make”:

“The ability to build assumes the knowledge of all architecture and construction forms, as well as their development. To build means to advance this process, to investigate, and to make. The development of buildings began over ten thousand years ago and has reached an extremely high level, but is in no way a closed process. There are still an infinite number of open possibilities, infinite discoveries to make.”

The influence of his work can be seen in projects like Norman Foster’s glass ceiling for the Great Court at the British Museum in London, Nicholas Grimshaw’s transparent geodesic domes at the Eden Project in Cornwall and Richard Rogers’ Millennium Dome.But despite what this legacy of statement architecture might suggest, Otto gave the impression that he was more interested in ideals than shapes.

FIG. 3 Working model of a membrane roof building (Usuario u2toyou 浅田)

FIG. 4 Munich’s olympic stadium (cornelia hellstern)


Designboom, 2015, ‘Frei Otto: a life of research, construction and inspiration’, viewed June 5 2015, <http://www.designboom.com/architecture/frei-otto-a-life-of-research-construction-and-inspiration-detail-book-report-06-02-2015/>

Archdaily, ‘Frei Otto and the Importance of Experimentation in Architecture’, viewed June 5 2015, <http://www.archdaily.com/610531/frei-otto-and-the-importance-of-experimentation-in-architecture/>

Dezeen Magazine, 2015, ‘Frei Otto: a life in projects’, viewed June 5 2015, <http://www.dezeen.com/2015/03/11/frei-otto-a-life-in-projects/>



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