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Schumacher and Beigel pay tribute to ‘profound’ architect Frei Otto

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Zaha Hadid Architects’ partner Patrick Schumacher and academic Florian Beigel have paid tribute to Frei Otto, the influential German architect who died just hours before being revealed as the 2015 Pritzker Prize Laureate

The Pritzker Architecture Prize brought forward its planned award announcement, which was due to be made in two weeks time, after it emerged that the 89-year-old German had died on Monday (9 March).

Patrick Schumacher was taught by Otto at Stuttgart University. In his tribute, Zaha Hadid Architects partner said Otto, who was best-known for his lightweight roof structures, was the ‘only true precursor of parametricism’.

Patrik Schumacher

In my estimation Frei Otto was the most original, profound and brilliant architectural innovator ever.

He is the only true precursor of parametricism and his path-breaking research, experimental work and large scale masterpieces to this day remain unsurpassed and incredibly influential for several generations of young architects, researchers and engineers.

He combined a radical creative genius with scientific rigour

The research group he established at Stuttgart University was a unique, global event within the field of architecture. The way he was able to combine radical creative genius with scientific rigour and problem solving brilliance is absolutely exemplary and very very rare.

His ‘form finding’ methodology of not only learning from nature but of directly harnessing nature via models that channel the forces of physics and materiality into morphogenetic processes was an amazing breakthrough that disrupted 3000 years of architectural reliance on simple geometric figures. It was Frei Otto more than anybody else that opened up architecture to nature’s inexhaustible, creative rationality. He even applied his principles of analogue simulation to urbanism. It was the augmentation of his methodology with computational simulations that allowed for its generalisation beyond what could be simulated by his scale models’ material computation. Frei Otto knew this and was an early adopter of such computational augmentations and substitutes.

I was a student at Stuttgart University at the time and joined his lectures in the mid-eighties. He was admired as original genius and as the architect of the Munich Olympic stadium, but it was only later when computers and new, dynamic computational design tools became much more widespread and available in the mid-nineties that his star started to rise into the avant-garde stratosphere for a whole generation of radical and inspired architects. And only in the last decade are we able to truly take his paradigm further and generalize it across all architectural tasks, at all scales. Frei Otto, Thank You! You will be remembered as the true inaugurator of 21st century architecture and urbanism.

Florian Beigel

Frei Otto had a deep and intuitive understanding of the ways that materials and structures are given their form according to their natural properties. He was an architect who developed physical form finding models using soap bubbles, hanging chains etc to search for building techniques that can do a lot with very little material using a minimum of human labour. He was interested from the beginning in not filling the world with objects and buildings that will get in the way of people’s lives. This resulted in extremely elegant, thin, and beautiful constructions that people can easily relate to with their own body - where things push and where things pull.

People tend to assume that he was an engineer

Because he built so many innovative experimental lightweight roof structures, people tend to assume that he was an engineer. He was very much an architect who worked closely with very talented engineers such as Fritz Leonhardt or Ted Happold, Michael Dixon and Ian Liddell at Ove Arup and Partners. He was extremely able at facilitating and directing multi-discipilary teams of experts to build projects that had a spirit of openness optimism and emancipation in the post-war years in Germany.

Frei Otto’s works have a special character of directness of construction. Bolt connections, joints between materials and allowance for tolerances are done with integrity, in ways that are clearly understandable and enjoyable to people. They do not fall into fashion or style consciousness. In these ways, Otto’s work is very relevant to us all, whether we are designing large roof structures or small buildings or pieces of furniture. He remains a real inspiration to me as an architect.

Previous story (AJ 11.03.15)

Obituary: Frei Otto (1925 – 2015)


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Readers' comments (1)

  • Philip Allsopp

    Frei Otto was a great architect and engineer. His structures are indeed inspiring in many ways - much more so than much of our built environment these days.

    However, the great man deserves better than an obituary laced with dreadful archi-babble as exmplified by "His ‘form finding’ methodology of not only learning from nature but of directly harnessing nature via models that channel the forces of physics and materiality into morphogenetic processes was an amazing breakthrough that disrupted 3000 years of architectural reliance on simple geometric figures"...

    Really? No wonder many in the general public and allied professions regard architects as out of touch, inarticulate people incapable of plain talk and obsessed with their precious creations.

    Philip D. Allsopp, D.Arch, RIBA, FRSA

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