A celebration of Frei Otto 1925-2015
The sad news of Frei Otto’s death was announced on Monday 9 March. He was due to receive the Pritzker Prize for Architecture in May this year – not that Frei was one for accolades.
In my mind he was, and will always be, one of the most outstanding, creative minds working in our field in the past hundred years. Bridging the world of architect and engineer he defined a new way of creating space underpinned by the belief that natural forms give us the best answers.
Ted Happold met Frei in the early 1970s and a life-long friendship was borne. Starting with the Mecca Conference Centre in Saudi, Multihalle timber lattice shell roofs in Mannheim and then the hugely ambitious KOCOMMAS project in Riyadh, Frei was instrumental in helping BuroHappold Engineering get off the ground with its first ‘proper’ job. Later he was behind many of the other great projects the practice has delivered: The Diplomatic Club in Riyadh, Hooke Park in Dorset in the UK, the Japanese Pavilion at the Hanover Expo in Germany……. and the inspiration for many more.
Frei was the first architect I can remember meeting and every meeting with him was memorable. Even when I was a student he was generous in the help he gave me researching air houses as I set out to drive round Europe in my old mini looking at every example I could find. Those early days, when I saw what he was doing in his Lightweight Structures Institute in Stuttgart (and the fabulous models using chains and soap films), hooked me into the world of natural engineering which still inspires me today. One trip to see the Munich Olympic Complex with Frei’s beautiful cable net roofs was enough: this was and still is some of the finest engineering-architecture we have seen.
It’s sad news to hear of Frei’s death but it’s really great to see that the world is recognising his importance as an original creative thinker, reflected in many of the obituaries that have been published.
To quote The New York Times: “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.”
Our condolences go to his wife and family, and our heartfelt thanks to Frei for his inspiration to so many of us, opening our eyes to the way that nature can lead us to the most elegant and effective engineering solutions.
Mike Cook, Chairman BuroHappold Engineering