We’ve built you a better ArchDaily. Learn more and let us know what you think. Send us your feedback »

Opinion: Why Michael Graves Should Have Won the Pritzker

In March of this year, two of the world’s great architects died in the same week. The coincidence was unusual not because of the similarities between these two men - the advanced stage of their careers, their age and relative success - but because of the marked differences. In the few days between their mutual passing, one of the two was awarded architecture’s highest medal, the Pritzker Prize. This year’s winner, Frei Otto, had been notified of his triumph in the months prior to his death. Someone you might call his alter ego – stylistically that is – the late, great Michael Graves, died shortly after the prize was awarded to Otto.

Otto was a leading light of a particular strain of European modernism, whose most lauded works were mainly completed in his youth; on the other side of the pond, Michael Graves ran a busy commercial practice with more than 350 completed buildings, but was reviled by some for his revisionist, classical style.

Michael Graves' Denver Central Library. Image © Michael Graves Michael Graves' St. Coletta School. Image © Michael Graves Michael Graves' Dolphin Resort at Walt Disney World. Image © James Cornetet - critiquethis.us Michael Graves' Portland Building. Image © Flickr user camknows

Watch The Pritzker Prize Award Ceremony Live Today (8pm ET)

Tonight the Pritzker Prize will hold its annual award ceremony, this year honoring the work of 2015 laureate Frei Otto, who sadly passed away the day before he was announced as this year's winner on March 10th. This year, the ceremony will be hosted in Miami Beach at Frank Gehry's New World Center, the first time the ceremony has been held in the Miami Area. Speakers will include Tom Pritzker and Chair of the Jury, Lord Peter Palumbo, alongside a selection of past Pritzker Laureates.

uncube Pays Homage to Frei Otto

uncube has published an entire issue dedicated to the late Frei Otto. The architect and inventor, known best for his tensile structures, was the first ever to be awarded the Pritzker Prize posthumously. Honoring Otto with more than a "simple retrospective homage," uncube has compiled an extensive online issue of "thoughts, anecdotes and observations" that reflect Otto's legacy and the ideas that lead him to be a significant part of architectural history. View the entire uncube issue on Frei Otto, here.

Video: Olympiapark München / Frei Otto

Pritzker laureate Frei Otto was best known for his tensile structures. A prime example Otto’s ingenuity, the 1972 Olympic Stadium in Munich was a collaborative work with Gunther Behnisch that connected the park’s main programs - the natatorium, gymnasium and main stadium - with a whimsical, lightweight canopy structure that mimicked the “rhythmic protrusions” of the Swiss Alps. Watch the Spirit of Space short film above to see the project in its current state and learn more about the pioneering structure, here.

Architects' Reactions to Frei Otto's Pritzker Prize Win

After news of Frei Otto winning the 2015 Pritzker Prize broke, the internet was filled with comments on his influence on the profession over the past half a century of architecture. Of course, with the news of the Pritzker sadly packaged with news of his death, the impulse for many to offer some words in remembrance heightened the outpouring of opinion.

In addition, Otto was especially popular among some of architecture's most established names; in a tweet, the New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman revealed that among the prominent advocates pushing for him to be awarded the prize were past laureates Renzo Piano and Shigeru Ban. With that in mind, we collected the thoughts and reactions of some of the leading architects today, revealing the respect held for Otto within the profession.

Frei Otto and the Importance of Experimentation in Architecture

In their notes on the selection of Frei Otto as the 2015 Pritzker Prize Laureate, the jury described him as an architect that took his work beyond the boundaries of the discipline, as an architect who was also a “researcher, inventor, form-finder, engineer, builder, teacher, collaborator, environmentalist, [and] humanist.”

To learn more about Otto’s multidisciplinary approach to architecture as well as his emphasis on experimentation, we turned to an interview he did with Juan María Songel in 2004, published in the book A Conversation with Frei Otto. In the interview, Otto discusses numerous topics of interest and relevance to architecture in the 21st century, and in particular the importance of experimentation and research, declaring: “Productive research must be brave!”

Video: Frei Otto Experimenting with Soap Bubbles

“The computer can only calculate what is already conceptually inside of it; you can only find what you look for in computers. Nevertheless, you can find what you haven’t searched for with free experimentation.” - From A Conversation with Frei Otto, by Juan Maria Songel

For Frei Otto, experimentation with models and maquettes was a fundamental part of his work as an architect. In 1961, he began to conduct a series of experiments with soap bubbles (featured in the video above). His experiments centered on suspending soap film and dropping a looped string into it to form a perfect circle. By then trying to pull the string out a minimal surface was created. It was these created surfaces that Otto experimented with.

Through these types of experimentation he was able to build forms and structures that were previously believed to be impossible. “Now it can be calculated, but for more than 40 years it was impossible to calculate it. I have not waited for it to be calculated in order to build it.”

"Spanning the Future" Documentary Traces the Life and Work of Frei Otto

Frei Otto: Spanning the Future,” a documentary profiling the internationally renowned architect and engineer Frei Otto, has been in production since 2012. Otto, who was named the 2015 Pritzker Prize laureate on Tuesday evening (following his death on Monday night), first gained international recognition half a century ago as a pioneer in designing tensile structures using metal frames and lightweight membranes.  

12 Things You Didn't Know About Pritzker Laureate Frei Otto

Hall at the International Garden Exhibition, 1963, Hamburg, Germany © Atelier Frei Otto Warmbronn
Hall at the International Garden Exhibition, 1963, Hamburg, Germany © Atelier Frei Otto Warmbronn

Frei Otto passed away this past Monday, a day before being internationally celebrated as the Pritzker Prize’s 40th laureate. The first architect to ever receive the Prize posthumously, Otto was a brilliant inventor, architect and engineer who pioneered some of history’s most ambitious tensile structures

In honor of his legacy, we’ve complied 12 fascinating facts about Otto’s life that influenced his career and shaped the profession. Read them all, after the break.

2015 Pritzker Prize Winner Frei Otto’s Work in 10 Images

On Tuesday evening the Pritzker Prize jury named Frei Otto as the 40th recipient of the award, making him the second German to receive the award and the first winner to receive it posthumously. Otto was both an architect and a structural engineer, perhaps best known for the 1972 Munich Olympic Stadium

With regards to their decision the jury highlighted Otto’s “visionary ideas, inquiring mind, belief in freely sharing knowledge and inventions, his collaborative spirit and concern for the careful use of resources.”  

Enjoy 10 photos of Otto’s projects after the break. 

Aviary at the Munich Zoo. Image © Atelier Frei Otto Warmbronn The 1967 International and Universal Exposition. Image © Atelier Frei Otto Warmbronn Diplomatic Club Heart Tent. Image © Atelier Frei Otto Warmbronn Institute for Lightweight Structures. Image © Atelier Frei Otto Warmbronn

Twitter Critics React to Frei Otto's Posthumous Pritzker

The sudden and unexpected announcement of the Pritzker Prize yesterday evening sent shockwaves through the architecture world. With the sad death of the Prize's latest laureate Frei Otto on Monday, the Pritzker made the unprecedented decision to announce the winner two weeks early, ensuring that Otto's final, crowning achievement would make its way into the obituaries of this great man.

Of course, despite the sudden nature of the announcement, the many critics on Twitter were on hand to lend their initial thoughts in what was an interesting mix of congratulations, sadness and nostalgia. Read on after the break for all the reactions.

Frei Otto Posthumously Named 2015 Pritzker Laureate

Frei Otto has just been named the 40th recipient of the Pritzker Prize - two weeks prior to the expected official announcement. The abrupt news has been released early due the unfortunate passing of the German architect and structural engineer, who was best known for the 1972 Munich Olympic Stadium. The pioneering tensile structure, which stood in considerable contrast to the strict, authoritarian stadium that was its predecessor, was meant to present a different, more compassionate face for Germany. 

"Throughout his life, Frei Otto has produced imaginative, fresh, unprecedented spaces and constructions. He has also created knowledge. Herein resides his deep influence: not in forms to be copied, but through the paths that have been opened by his research and discoveries," says the Jury.

"His contributions to the field of architecture are not only skilled and talented, but also generous. For his visionary ideas, inquiring mind, belief in freely sharing knowledge and inventions, his collaborative spirit and concern for the careful use of resources, the 2015 Pritzker Architecture Prize is awarded to Frei Otto."

Though he sadly passed away before the award ceremony, Otto was informed of his win by the Pritzker Prize's Executive Director Martha Thorne, who traveled to his home in Warmbronn to inform him of his prize. Speaking shortly after her visit, he said: "I am now so happy to receive this Pritzker Prize and I thank the jury and the Pritzker family very much. I have never done anything to gain this prize. My architectural drive was to design new types of buildings to help poor people especially following natural disasters and catastrophes... You have here a happy man."

Read the Jury’s full citation after the break… 

Diplomatic Club Heart Tent, 1980, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia . Image © Atelier Frei Otto Warmbronn The 1967 International and Universal Exposition or Expo 67, 1967, Montreal, Canada . Image © Atelier Frei Otto Warmbronn Hall at the International Garden Exhibition, 1963, Hamburg, Germany . Image © Atelier Frei Otto Warmbronn Roofing for main sports facilities in the Munich Olympic Park for the 1972 Summer Olympics, 1968–1972, Munich, Germany . Image © Atelier Frei Otto Warmbronn

Video: Frei Otto's German Pavilion at Expo 67

Last night German architect Frei Otto was selected as the 2015 Pritzker Prize Laureate, the second German to win the award and the first to receive the award posthumously. The video above shows the impressive construction process of Otto’s German Pavilion at the 1967 International and Universal Exposition in Montreal (although unfortunately without sound).

Covering an area of 8,000 square meters, the pavilion featured a large, steel mesh web suspended over eight steel masts, which were located at irregular intervals and supported by anchored cables located outside of the structure.  A transparent polyester fabric was then placed over the mesh roof, creating a tent.  The whole construction took only six weeks. 

Spotlight: Frei Otto

© Ingenhoven und Partner Architekten, Düsseldorf
© Ingenhoven und Partner Architekten, Düsseldorf

German architect and structural engineer Frei Otto (31 May 1925 – 9 March 2015) 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.

German Pavilion, Expo ’67. Image © Atelier Frei Otto Warmbronn Diplomatic Club Heart Tent. Image © Atelier Frei Otto Warmbronn Aviary at the Munich Zoo. Image © Atelier Frei Otto Warmbronn Japan Pavilion, Expo 2000. Image © Atelier Frei Otto Warmbronn