Sponsored by The Hyatt Foundation

Tributes to Frei Otto


Lord Peter Palumbo, Chair of the Jury of the Pritzker Architecture Prize

Time waits for no man. If anyone doubts this aphorism, the death yesterday of Frei Otto, a titan of modern architecture, a few weeks short of his 90th birthday, and a few short weeks before his receipt of the Pritzker Architecture Prize in Miami in May, represents a sad and striking example of this truism. His loss will be felt wherever the art of architecture is practiced the world over, for he was a universal citizen; whilst his influence will continue to gather momentum by those who are aware of it, and equally, by those who are not.

Frei stands for Freedom, as free and as liberating as a bird in flight, swooping and soaring in elegant and joyful arcs, unrestrained by the dogma of the past, and as compelling in its economy of line and in the improbability of its engineering as it is possible to imagine, giving the marriage of form and function the invisibility of the air we breathe, and the beauty we see in Nature.


Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureates:


Shigeru Ban, 2014 Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize

Louis Kahn asked the brick, “What do you want to become, brick?”

The brick answered, “I want to become an arch.”

I think that Frei Otto was an architect who kept asking the “air” what it wanted to become.

He kept thinking about how to envelop “air” or “space” with the minimum of material and power.

He was still touching materials and drawing sketches until his last breath. His achievements, rather than just being his “works,” have become the ‘‘grammar’’ of structural design, unnoticed, and we architects are only now realizing that we unconsciously base our designs on his grammar.

I am truly indebted to Frei Otto, for sharing his deep understanding and inventions in the field of architecture.


Zaha Hadid, 2004 Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize 

The fluidity of Frei Otto’s work is as uplifting as it was profoundly inventive — a persuasive manifesto of nature’s logic and unity, demonstrating how architectural design and engineering can emulate nature’s morphogenesis. The more our own design research evolves, the more we learn to appreciate his pioneering works. He will continue to influence architects and engineers for generations to come.

We first met in Germany early in my career and he became a dear friend. His research and exploration of tensile structures was inspirational and enlightening, and his Pritzker Prize is very well deserved. Our joy of this news is some consolation for the loss of a great friend, architect, inventor, educator and gentleman. Our thoughts are with his family at this time. 


Frank Gehry, 1989 Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize

Frei Otto forever changed the way we think about structure and building. Through his experiments in form-finding, Otto simultaneously affirmed and questioned the conventions of engineering as we knew it, and in the process showed us unprecedented solutions to age old problems — where others saw mass as the solution, he offered lightness. Like the ancients and others that came before him, he questioned the origins of our assumptions by going back to nature and figuring it out for himself. There he found systems, networks, and surfaces that exceeded all our imaginations. He found logic in complexity, and proceeded to translate the lessons he learned into efficiently realized constructions.

Otto was far ahead of his time in anticipating the issues that would confront the built landscape today: population density, transience, impermanence, energy demands, the growing scale of structures, etc. It is everyone's loss that we will not have his visionary contributions to the conversations of the day.


Thom Mayne, 2005 Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize

I was both very happy to hear yesterday of Frei Otto’s Pritzker Prize recognition and profoundly saddened to learn of his passing.

For my generation of architects, Frei Otto was an altruistic revolutionary who produced works of immense intellect and beauty. His pioneering message of technology for the sake of society has become increasingly relevant as we move into this digital age.

His explorations into light, strong tensile systems were not merely technological pursuits; they were didactic of a larger social discourse of inclusion and egalitarianism.

Ultimately, under his visionary innovations, he initiated a new age of possibilities for architecture to offer intelligence, performance, hope, and optimism.


Renzo Piano, 1998 Laureates of the Pritzker Architecture Prize

Frei Otto has been one of the most seminal people on my route to architecture.

By the clear determination to work on basic shelters for human communities.

And exploring the movement of forces within the structure to make it visible.

Celebrating lightness.

And fighting against gravity.

He succeeded in this and he will always be in my thoughts.


Wang Shu, 2012 Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize

As a pioneer of lightweight structures, Frei Otto was the architect that our generation researched when we were in college.

In fact, there are three kinds of architects today. The first kind are those who have been exploring in the areas of art and culture and trying to express this in architectural languages. The second and most common kind are those who have been focusing on urban problems and environment; architects in the past were rarely involved in urban planning, but now the number is steadily increasing. The third kind are like Frei Otto — they have been exploring and developing new technology. There are fewer and fewer architects of the third kind now.

Lightweight structure doesn’t need a thick foundation; it uses less material and has an obvious advantage in environmental protection. Therefore, in modern times, many architects are interested in the research, including me.

In the modern architecture context in which commercial buildings get an increasingly dominant position, awarding the Pritzker Prize to Frei Otto may imply that architecture should return to its origin.


Jacques Herzog & Pierre de Meuron, 2001 Laureates of the Pritzker Architecture Prize

We thought Frei Otto had been given the Pritzker Prize long ago! His work was very new and different in his time, a kind of optimistic modernism which is so dearly missing in today's eclectic earnestness! Frei Otto's work looks still fresh and inspiring!


Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, 2010 Laureates of the Pritzker Architecture Prize

We are deeply saddened by the news of Frei Otto’s passing.

He was an outstanding architect and a great visionary whose influence will last for many generations to come.

We are grateful for his generosity in educating, inspiring, and encouraging the rest of us.


Norman Foster, 1999 Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize

I was deeply saddened to hear that Frei Otto had passed away on Monday. On the occasion of his 80th birthday ten years ago I wrote the following tribute:

Frei Otto showed us that architecture need not be burdened by the weight of its own traditions, but could instead be free to express itself through simple but innovative sculptural forms — his was an architecture inspired by lightness. This sense of weightlessness, and of an architecture unbound by convention, was carried over into Frei’s working relationships. Rather than working in isolation, he consistently advocated a freer role for the architect — whether this was as an educator, sharing his ideas with generations of students, or in practice, through valued joint projects with, or providing research support for, other architects and engineers. For me, he reinforced the point that architecture is a fundamentally collaborative exercise. His extraordinary structures altered the nature of architectural form in the twentieth century, and his environmentalism, intelligence and foresight have established the defining architectural mentality for the twenty-first. He was an inspiration.


Richard Meier, 1984 Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize

Frei Otto was an architect of enormous talent and his creativity was all encompassing. In addition to his inventive work as an individual practitioner, he was an important associate to many in the field of architecture and engineering. His tremendous contributions will be appreciated and valued for a long, long time.


The Pritzker Architecture Prize 2015 Jury:


Kristin Feireiss

Frei Otto was not only one of the most genius and influential architects and visionary spirits of the twentieth century, with his pioneering structural inventions, his society-related design based on deep humanism, his belief in fundamental research and the way he defines architecture as teamwork — an interplay of collective knowledge of cross-disciplinary experts — he had, has and will have an essential impact on generations of architects from all over the world.

With his holistic approach Frei Otto was always a step ahead his time. We will miss him.


Richard Rogers, 2007 Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize

Frei Otto is a revolutionary architect and structural engineer. He is renowned for his development and use of ultra-modern and super-light tent-like structures, and for his innovative use of new materials.

He is a great teacher and set up his own Institute for Lightweight Structures at the University of Stuttgart in 1964, making early use of computer modeling to create sensational membrane structures, inspired by natural phenomena — from birds’ skulls to soap bubbles and spiders’ webs.

Frei Otto is one of the great architects and engineers of the 20th Century and his work has inspired and influenced modern architecture, as we all learn to do more with less, and to trade monumental structures for economy, light and air.


Glenn Murcutt, 2002 Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize

In today's media driven culture, too often we are presented with the architecture of novelty and or the spectacular. Architecture is not a short-term proposition; it must remain relevant over time. This year’s recipient has spent his lifetime researching, experimenting, and developing a most beautiful architecture that is timeless. It embodies the purity of lightweight shelter with structures that are economical, simple and are supremely beautiful. The lifelong work of Frei Otto has had and will continue to have a profound international influence on the thinking and work of architects.


Benedetta Tagliabue

When remembering the many projects of Frei Otto or looking at images of them, they bring forth emotions of joy, curiosity, admiration, a wish to imitate and further develop. These strong feelings that the work of 2015 Pritzker winner constantly evokes can be a beacon for us all.


Yung Ho Chang

Frei Otto is a pioneer for embracing new technologies, from new materials to new structural systems  and bringing them into architecture. He has changed our discipline and practice in a revolutionary way. Today's architects are fascinated by the possibility of making lightweight buildings and curvilinear forms. For these interests, Frei Otto can be regarded as a father figure.


Stephen Breyer

To speak to architects about Frei Otto is to learn of the great influence that he has had, as a teacher and model, upon modern architecture in Europe and beyond.


Alejandro Aravena

Throughout his life, Frei Otto has created imaginative, fresh, unprecedented spaces and constructions. He has also created knowledge. Here resides his deep influence: not as forms that were copied but as paths that were opened by his research and discoveries. His contribution to the field of architecture in that sense, has been not only skilled and talented, but also a generous one.