German architect Frei Otto was just named the 40th recipient of the prestigious Pritzker Prize—the announcement was made early due to his unfortunate passing two weeks before the scheduled unveiling. Best known for pioneering the use of lightweight, nature-inspired tent structures in temporary exhibitions and events, Otto is praised by the prize’s jury for developing “a most sensitive architecture that has influenced countless others throughout the world.” In honor of Otto and his attainment of architecture’s highest honor, we’ve rounded up seven of his greatest works, including his large-scale roof design for the 1972 Munich Olympic Stadium. Frei Otto, who learned of his laureate selection earlier this year, said of his accolade: “I am now so happy to receive this Pritzker Prize and I thank the jury and the Pritzker family very much. My architectural drive was to design new types of buildings to help poor people especially following natural disasters and catastrophes.”
Roof for the 1972 Munich Olympic Stadium
Designed in collaboration with Gunther Behnisch, the roofing for the 1972 Munich Olympic Stadium was considered a pioneer in lightweight tensile and membrane construction. The cloud-like and innovative structure was a striking departure from the harsh and authoritarian appearance of previous roofing structures and helped present a new, lighter face of Germany to the world. Covered in acrylic glass panels, the suspended membrane delicately floats above the stadium and maintains views out towards the surrounding landscape.
Roof for the Multihalle (multipurpose hall) in Mannheim, Germany
Completed in 1975 over the course of five years, the Multihalle is topped by a double curvature wooden gridshell structure designed by Otto, Carlfried Mutschler, and Joachim Langner. The large-span gridshell was made for a horticultural exhibition in Mannheim, Germany and covers an area of nearly 9,500 square meters. Listed as a historical cultural monument since 1998, this timber lattice self-supporting roof structure allows diffused light into the building and creates a sense of weightlessness inside.
1967 International and Universal Exposition in Montreal, Canada
The Expo 67’s West German Pavilion Roof was a competition-winning tensile membrane design that took Otto and collaborator Rolf Gutbrod several years to develop. Thanks to careful design and a form-finding structural engineering principle called dynamic relaxation, the structure took only six weeks to construct and upon completion, was the first tent ever used as an exhibition building at a world exhibition. The roof comprises a steel wire net fastened to eight slender steel masts that was then covered by a translucent plastic skin.
Japan Paper Pavilion, Expo 2000 in Hannover, Germany
Frei Otto designed the Japan Pavilion for Expo 2000 in collaboration with Shigeru Ban, the 2014 laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. Constructed entirely from paper, the grid shell pavilion is made up of recyclable paper tubes without joints. The airy tunnel arch measures 73.8 meters long and 25 meters wide. Honeycomb boards were used as partitions in the interior.
Diplomatic Club Heart Tent in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Completed in 1980, the Diplomatic Club Heart Tent serves as the centerpiece to the interior garden of Riyadh’s Diplomatic Quarter. The beautiful canopy is made from 2,020 8-millimeter-thick tiles of stained glass painted with colorful and traditional patterns created by Bettina Otto, Frei Otto’s daughter. The canopy helps protect visitors from the powerful sun and is made from cable net construction.
Munich Zoo Aviary
In collaboration with Jörg Gribl and Ted Happold, Frei Otto designed a large aviary for the Munich Hellabrunn, the world’s first “GeoZoo” located in Munich, Germany. The innovative and thin, stainless steel mesh canopy creates a cage-free-like environment for the animals. The site covers an area of 5,000 square meters, with a height of 18 meters.
City in the Arctic Proposal
City in the Arctic was Otto’s visionary proposal to house 40,000 residents within an air-supported city dome in Antarctica. Created with engineers at Arup in 1971, the pneumatic dome stretches 2 kilometers across and would be built on an estuary for easy access to shipping routes. A nuclear power station would provide heat and energy to the dome and would help keep the harbor ice-free. The proposed canopy would be constructed from a translucent skin attached by a grid of high-strength polyester fiber cables.
Images via Pritzker Prize, © Atelier Frei Otto Warmbronn