Frei Paul Otto, a German architect, was born on May 31, 1925 in Siegmar, Germany and spent his childhood in Berlin. Son and grandson of sculptors, Otto served as a trainee in stonemasonry at his father’s office at an early age during his school vacations and as a hobby he used to fly and design glider planes.
In 1943 he passed his secondary school from the Schadow School in Berlin-Zehlendorf and applied for university entrance diploma to study architecture but was sent into the labor force instead. Between the periods of 1943 to 1945 he joined military service and got training as a pilot. Later in 1944 his training stopped and he started serving as a foot soldier. In 1945 he got captured and became prisoner of war and remained in French war captivity until 1947. There Otto worked as the camp architect and the unavailability of construction materials taught him to make temporary structures with minimum supply of resources.
In 1948 Frei Otto returned to Berlin and got enrolled at the Technical University of Berlin to study architecture. He moved to the United States in 1950 and studied urban planning and sociology at the University of Virginia. There he visited various architectural sites and saw different structures and landmarks designed by notable architects. In 1952 Otto returned to Berlin and founded his own architectural firm and started preparing for his doctorate degree along with practice. In 1954 he got the doctorate degree in civil engineering from the Technical University of Berlin. His thesis on tensile roof structures made its way to publication in various languages.
He moved forward with same tent-like design technique and continued his practice with several projects promoting this tent making approach. From 1952 to 1972 Otto gained enough fame as a freelance architect, author, inventor and designer. He provided Berlin with new trend of light weight structures. His struggles and contributions in this very field led towards his appointment as the director of the Institute for Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design at the University of Stuttgart in Germany from 1964 to 1990.
Some of the notable projects of Frei Otto are:
- 1967 – West Germany Pavilion at Expo 67 Montreal
- 1972 – Roof for Olympic Stadium, Munich
- 1975 – Multihalle, Mannheim
- 1977 – Umbrellas for1977 Pink Floyd tour
- 1980 – Aviary at Munich Zoo
- 1985 –Tuwaiq Palace, Saudi Arabia, with Buro Happold
- 2000 – Roof structure of the Japanese Pavilion at Expo 2000, Hanover Germany
Along with practicing architecture Otto wrote and edited several books and pieces on tensile structures and all these contributions made him win a lot of awards. Otto won the highest award of architectural world, Pritzker Prize, which was to be announced publically on 23rd March 2015 but due to his death on 9th March 2015 committee announced it on the very next day i.e. 10th March 2015. Remarks put forward by Frei Otto on knowing about winning this prize were as follows,
“I’ve never done anything to gain this prize. Prize winning is not the goal of my life. I try to help poor people, but what shall I say here — I’m very happy.”