German Roofing Pioneer

Frei Otto, an innovator in roofing recently passed away, two weeks before earning the coveted Pritzker Prize. The Pritzker Prize is essentially the noble prize of architecture. It’s a shame Otto died before receiving recognition, but surely his offspring, friends, and family appreciated the bestowal of the award.

Frei Otto is noted primarily for designing the roof canopy of the Olympiastadion, a structure admired for its light weight, innovative design. Indeed, the structure basically created a tent able to house thousands and ward off the elements indefinitely. It was lauded during the 1972 Olympics for its lightweight, utilitarian design.

One may ask why it took so long for the Pritzker commission to award Otto. Well, in the wake of the devastation caused by WWII, it is not improbable that the Pritzker panel was hesitant to bestow the award on an architect who was a member of the Nazi party. Indeed, Pritzker was a pilot in the Luftwaffe. He was captured in Nuremberg where he then became a prisoner of war. The French discovered Pritzker’s peculiar genius for architecture and the mechanical arts, and thus, he was commissioned as the camp’s architect. In order to save money in the wake of WWII devastating aftershock, Pritzker was often forced to design with limited materials. Perhaps this is where the genesis of his utilitarian, minimalistic style began.

It is said by Richard Rogers, a fellow architect and recipient of the Pritzker that “Frei Otto is one of the great architects of the 20th century. His work has inspired and influenced modern architecture, as we learn to do more with less, and trade monumental structures for economy, light and air.”