Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Frei Otto Dies - and Wins Pritzker

Frei Otto,  was a German architect who was also a structural engineer who headed up the Institut für Leichte Flächentragwerke at the University of Stuttgart, Germany when I was an architecture student there. He taught us about the lightweight structures that could be ultra-thin because they are only subjected to tension, no moments and no compression. His favorite topic where the hyperbolic paraboloids, a saddle shape overlaid with a parabolic shape with tensioning in two directions that became most famous in their incarnation as the Olympic tents in Munich in 1972. He and the late Guenther Behnisch defined postwar German architecture as light, transparent and as Behnisch often emphasized: "democratic" after the Nazis had usurped and discredited heavy classicist architecture.  The original tensile structures could not be calculated for lack of computing power and were designed using models and experiments.

Frei Otto had been selected for this year's  Pritzker Prize, the 40th overall and the second bestowed to a German. He died four weeks before his award was to be announced almost ninety years old. H practiced his profession until his death and had been informed about the Pritzker before he died Monday in his home at Warmbronn near Stuttgart. He is survived by his wife Ingrid. 
Stuttgart University President Wolfram Ressel called him a great designer most known for his interdisciplinary approach. He compared the Pritzker Prize to the Nobel Prize in architecture. 



Mr. Otto's stadium roof canopies for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich were widely admired for their lightness and strength. CreditView Pictures/UIG, via Getty Images
In an announcement abruptly moved up after his death, the German architect Frei Otto on Tuesday was named the winner of the Pritzker Prize in recognition of his airy tentlike structures and other inventive feats of engineering.
Mr. Otto, 89, died in Germany on Monday, two weeks before he was to be named this year’s laureate, the prize jury said. He is perhaps best known for roof canopies designed for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, admired for their blend of lightness and strength.
“He has embraced a definition of architect to include researcher, inventor, form-finder, engineer, builder, teacher, collaborator, environmentalist, humanist, and creator of memorable buildings and spaces,” the jury said in its citation.

The Pritzker is regarded as architecture’s highest honor and usually goes to a living architect. The committee said it was the first time that a winner had died before the announcement was made.
Mr. Otto learned of his selection early this year when Martha Thorne, the prize’s executive director, flew to Stuttgart to inform him of the jury’s choice. He was blind but otherwise in good health, the panel said. Mr. Otto was honored and surprised, according to Edward Lifson, a spokesman for the prize.
“I’ve never done anything to gain this prize,” Mr. Otto was quoted as saying. “Prizewinning is not the goal of my life. I try to help poor people, but what shall I say here — I’m very happy.”
Mr. Otto may not have been a household name, but he was widely esteemed in the profession. Prominent architects had quietly pushed for him to receive the award for years.
“Time waits for no man,” said Peter Palumbo, the Pritzker chairman, in a statement, calling Mr. Otto’s death “a sad and striking example of this truism.”
The announcement was originally to be made on March 23. The architect Frank Gehry was to award Mr. Otto the prize at a ceremony on May 15 at the New World Center in Miami. That will proceed as scheduled, with past Pritzker laureates speaking there about Mr. Otto’s life and work.
Mr. Otto first became known for tent structures used as temporary pavilions at the Federal Garden Show in Germany and other events in the 1950s.
His large-scale roofs for the 1972 Olympics stadium in Munich, designed with Günter Behnisch, defied expectations, though the games were vastly overshadowed by the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes there by Palestinian terrorists.
Mr. Otto often designed in collaboration with others, collaborating with Shigeru Ban on Japan’s pavilion for the 2000 Hannover Expo in Germany and with Rolf Gutbrod on the West German pavilion at the Montreal Expo of 1967.
Frei OttoCreditToshifumi Kitamura/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Born in Siegmar, near Chemnitz in western Germany, Mr. Otto grew up in Berlin. He designed glider planes as a hobby, fascinated by the structural forces at work when thin membranes are stretched over light frames.
During service as a pilot in the Luftwaffe during World War II, he was captured near Nuremberg, Germany, and held for two years in a prisoner-of-war camp near Chartres in France, where he worked as a camp architect, learning to build various structures with the minimal materials available.

Munich Olympic tents

Frei Otto

From Die Bauwelt 3/11/15:

Die zehnköpfige Pritzker-Preisjury um Richard Rogers, Alejandro Aravena und Kristin Feireiss begründet ihre diesjährige Entscheidung unter anderem mit folgenden Worten: „Frei Otto ist nicht nur Architekt, sondern auch Forscher, Erfinder, Form-Finder, Ingenieur, Baumeister, Lehrer, Mitarbeiter, Umwelt-Aktivist, Humanist und Schöpfer unvergesslicher Gebäude und Orte gewesen.“ Das klingt ein wenig, als müsse man besonders viel Verschiedenes machen, um diesen Preis zu bekommen. 

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