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.
1. Frei Otto was the son of a sculptor.
2. He spent much of his childhood building model airplanes.
3. After being drafted at 17 to serve in the German air force during World War II, Otto was captured and sent to a French P.O.W. camp where he was struck by the need for temporary shelter and became the camp architect.
4. Challenged to provide maximum enclosure with minimum materials, Otto referenced the soap bubble for building inspiration. He later revisited the bubble to design the “membrane-topped network of cables” that topped the West German Pavilion at the World Expo in Montreal in 1967.
5. His first project after the war was a social housing estate. Meant to last 30 years, it is now a listed building.
6. Otto's dancing pavilion for Cologne’s federal garden show was one of his first projects to gain public acclaim. Designed to last a year, the pavilion still stands today.
7. A biological research unit Otto set up in 1960 developed a pneumatic system of shell structures that were later used in the domes of Nicholas Grimshaw’s Eden Project.
8. Otto founded the Institute for Lightweight Structures at the College of Technology in Stuttgart in 1964.
9. In 1996, Otto won the Wolf Prize in Arts for architecture alongside Aldo Van Eyck.
11. In 2005, Otto was awarded Britain’s Royal Gold Medal for Architecture.