Frei Otto, Architect, Teacher and Visionary
“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”. This is how the jury of the most famous world architecture award marks its recognition to the great German architect. We met in Germany, at the beginning of my relationship with Menis, when an exhibition in Stuttgart about Canarian architecture in 1993 brought me closer to the ideas of the Bauhaus for the first time. Then he awarded us with the ethereal beauty of his home inviting us to share with him and his wife and best collaborator, Ingrid Otto, an afternoon snack surrounded by nature, bright windows and delicate models of his designs. Madrid was the next stop, where after spending all night finishing a model for the Tenerife Fairground competition (which we eventually lost and Calatrava won), Frei and Ingrid, instead of going to bed, preferred visiting the Prado Museum up until they had to fly back to Germany. Then came the experience with them in Florence, in the exhibition Frei Otto had the radical generosity to share with young Canarian architects Artengo, Menis and Pastrana at the Academy of Fine Arts in 1995. The pioneer and visionary fluency of Frei Otto’s works is uplifting and very similar to nature, from which this German architect learns masterfully and invents. Passing away on Monday, March 9th 2015, just a few days after receiving the news that he had won the well-deserved Pritzker award, Frei Otto was, all of himself and his attitude towards life, a manifesto in defence of the logic of nature. Frei Otto is the author of the daring and iconic Olympic Stadium in Munich (1972) and with this design he made architecture grow and demonstrated, with the lightness of its covers, that the most solid architecture is sometimes possible from the lightness of the forms of nature. His creations also include the Mannheim Congress Centre (1975), the pavilion for the Universal Exhibition in Montreal (1967) and the brilliant and subtle umbrellas for the Pink Floyd tour around the United States in 1977. Friends with César Manrique, they both shared their advanced ecological concern and obsession to prove that the planet and architecture that he sculpted could be understood, not only symbolically, but could also work together. Architecture can be in tune with nature, without forcing it, making life on Earth better. This idea is the essence of the best architecture. Frei Otto was also a great teacher who taught at Harvard and the MIT and, above all, for almost 30 years at the University of Stuttgart. Once again, ahead of his time, he believed in the need to share knowledge freely and never obsessed over copyright. As Kristin Feireiss, another mutual friend, says, “Frei Otto was not only one of the most genius and influential architects and visionary spirits of the twentieth century, with his pioneering structural inventions, his society-related design based on deep humanism, his belief in fundamental research and the way he defines architecture as teamwork — an interplay of collective knowledge of cross-disciplinary experts — he had, has and will have an essential impact on generations of architects from all over the world. With his holistic approach Frei Otto was always a step ahead his time.” His work is what we have left to continue enjoying his ideas and wisdom, but there is no doubt, Frei Otto and his freedom will be missed.