Bucky Fuller got most of the popular press, but back in the seventies Frei Otto was wowing architects with his designs for lightweight, tensile and flexible structures. The architect, who died on Monday, had recently been awarded the Pritzker Prize for 2015, but did not live to go to the party in Miami on March 23. The Pritzker citation nails it:
He has embraced a definition of architect to include researcher, inventor, form-finder, engineer, builder, teacher, collaborator, environmentalist, humanist, and creator of memorable buildings and spaces.
He was a pioneer in what we today call biomimicry:
Taking inspiration from nature and the processes found there, he sought ways to use the least amount of materials and energy to enclose spaces. He practiced and advanced ideas of sustainability, even before the word was coined. He was inspired by natural phenomena – from birds’ skulls to soap bubbles and spiders' webs. He spoke of the need to understand the "physical, biological and technical processes which give rise to objects."
He took a different approach than his friend Bucky, telling Justin McGuirk of Iconeye a decade ago about his more modest ambitions:
Maybe you know that I was a close friend of Bucky Fuller, and we debated the idea of large domes. But why should we build very large spaces when they are not necessary? We can build houses which are two or three kilometres high and we can design halls spanning several kilometres and covering a whole city but we have to ask what does it really make? What does society really need?
Frei Otto influenced many architects, no doubt including Bjarke Ingels in his proposal for the new Google headquarters, with its tensile roof.
Frei Otto, dead at 89. See 6 awe-inspiring works by 2015 Pritzker Prize winner Frei Otto on MNN.