Hanif Kara: Remembering Frei Otto, 2015 Pritzker Prize Laureate

Frei Otto was named winner of the 2015 Pritzker Prize, one of architecture’s premier prizes. Frei Otto sadly passed away on Monday at the age of 89, shortly after the Pritzker Prize committee informed him of the award. Due to the unfortunate and unconventional circumstances, the Pritzker Prize committee decided to to award the prize posthumosly.

Frei Otto’s work features in a wide range of courses at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. His work on integrating aggregate-housing systems into urban contexts is currently being taught as part of the GSD Studio Abroad in Berlin, led by Frank Barkow, of Barkow Leibinger, and Arno Brandlhuber of brandlhuber+.

Hanif Kara, professor in practice of architectural technology at the Harvard GSD, remembers Frei Otto as a pioneer in the field:

“I will remember him as more than just a great architect with a range of abilities and the ‘intellectual muscle’ responsible for work, processes and insights that have transcended many boundaries. His name has long been linked with the fields of material efficiency, complex geometry and math, ecological challenges and systems thinking, amongst others.

My sense is that his intangible contributions (to what we might call esoteric scientific disciplines), always intuitively aware of imagery, the dramatic possibilities of shape, and even offering interpretations of the cultural mystique of fabrics, have taught me the greatest lessons in perseverance and collaboration, which I still carry with me.

Having discovered his work early in my studies, I began to understand the relationship between forces and geometry; the connections he made between physical modeling, intuition and full-scale structural behavior remain relevant, and are still proving to be precise even in the post-digital age, whilst continuing to evoke a sense of excitement each time they are considered, in a way that defies competition.

The Pritzker jury should be applauded and congratulated for awarding this important accolade to Frei Otto.” 

Frei Otto inspired student work

The images shown are by students from the Harvard GSD’s Fall 2013 “Parametric Semiology” course, which took inspiration from Frei Otto’s work.