“Most architects think in drawings, or did think in drawings; today, they think on the computer monitor. I always tried to think three dimensionally. The interior eye of the brain should be not flat but three dimensional so that everything is an object in space. We are not living in a two-dimensional world.”
“Why should we build very large spaces when they are not necessary? We can design halls spanning several kilometres and covering a whole city, but we have to ask, what does it really make? What does society really need?”
“I have only one dream. It is the oldest of humanity, of man, in time. It is paradise. I would like to give paradise to everyone.”
Frei Otto 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 specialised in lightweight tensile and membrane structures, and pioneered advances in structural mathematics and civil engineering. He founded the Institute for Lightweight Structures at the University of Stuttgart in 1964 and headed the institute until his retirement as university professor. Major works include the West German Pavilion at the Montreal Expo in 1967 and the roof of the 1972 Munich Olympic Arena.
Otto was born in Siegmar, 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 POW camp near Chartres and with his aviation engineering training and lack of material and an urgent need for housing, began experimenting with tents for shelter. After the war he studied briefly in the US and visited Erich Mendelsohn, Mies van der Rohe, Richard Neutra, and Frank Lloyd Wright.
German Pavilion, Expo ’67
Roofing for main sports facilities in the Munich Olympic Park for the 1972 Summer Olympics
German Pavilion, Expo ’67
German architect and structural engineer Frei Otto was well known for his pioneering innovations in lightweight and tensile structures. Shortly before his death in 2015 he was awarded the Pritzker Prize and prior to that he was awarded the RIBA Royal Gold Medal in 2006. Much of his research in lightweight structures is as relevant today as when he first proposed them over 60 years ago, and his work continues to inform architects and engineers to this day.
Roof for the 1972 Munich Olympic Stadium
Japan Paper Pavilion, Expo 2000 in Hannover, Germany
Constructed entirely from paper, the grid shell pavilion is made up of recyclable paper tubes without joints.
City in the Arctic Proposal
City in the Arctic was Otto’s visionary proposal to house 40,000 residents within an air-supported city dome in Antarctica.
Written & Narrated by Michael Paglia