Frei Otto receives the 2015 Pritzker Architecture Prize

Tom Pritzker, Chairman and President of The Hyatt Foundation, sponsor of the prize, recently announced that Frei Otto was awarded the 2015 Pritzker Architecture Prize. Pritzker said: “Our jury was clear that, in their view, Frei Otto’s career is a model for generations of architects and his influence will continue to be felt. The news of his passing is very sad, unprecedented in the history of the prize. We are grateful that the jury awarded him the prize while he was alive. Fortunately, after the jury decision, representatives of the prize travelled to Otto’s home and were able to meet with him to share the news. At this year’s Pritzker Prize award ceremony in Miami on May 15th, we will celebrate his life and timeless work.”

Otto becomes the 40th laureate of the Pritzker Prize and the second laureate from Germany. The jury selected Otto as the laureate earlier this year, and shortly thereafter the Executive Director of the prize travelled to Otto’s home and studio in Warmbronn, Germany to deliver the news in person. Learning that he had received the Pritzker Prize, Otto said: “I am now so happy to receive this Pritzker Prize and I thank the jury and the Pritzker family very much. I have never done anything to gain this prize. My architectural drive was to design new types of buildings to help poor people, especially following natural disasters and catastrophes. So what shall be better for me than to win this prize? I will use whatever time is left to me to keep doing what I have been doing, which is to help humanity. You have here a happy man.”

Otto practiced a holistic and collaborative approach to architecture, working with environmentalists, biologists, engineers, philosophers, historians, naturalists, artists and other architects. A distinguished teacher and author, Otto pioneered the use of modern lightweight tent-like structures for many uses. He was attracted to them partly for their economical and ecological values. He believed in making efficient, responsible use of materials, and that architecture should make a minimal impact on the environment. Otto was a utopian who never stopped believing that architecture can make a better world for all.   

In contrast to the heavy, columned stone and masonry architecture preferred by the National Socialists in the Germany in which he grew up—Otto’s work was lightweight, open to nature and natural light, non-hierarchical, democratic, low-cost, energy-efficient, and sometimes designed to be temporary.

He is best known for the roofing for the main sports facilities in the Munich Olympic Park for the 1972 Summer Olympics (with Behnisch + Partner and others), for the German pavilion at the 1967 International and Universal Exposition (Expo 67), the Japan Pavilion at Expo 2000 in Hanover, Germany (in 2000, with Shigeru Ban (2014 laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize), a series of tent structures for German Federal Exhibitions in the 1950s, and for his work in the Middle East.

The Chair of the Pritzker Architecture Prize jury, Lord Peter Palumbo, said: “Time waits for no man. If anyone doubts this aphorism, the death yesterday of Frei Otto, a titan of modern architecture, a few weeks short of his 90th birthday and a few short weeks before his receipt of the Pritzker Architecture Prize in Miami in May, represents a sad and striking example of this truism. His loss will be felt wherever the art of architecture is practiced the world over, for he was a universal citizen; whilst his influence will continue to gather momentum by those who are aware of it, and equally, by those who are not. “Frei stands for freedom, as free and as liberating as a bird in flight, swooping and soaring in elegant and joyful arcs, unrestrained by the dogma of the past, and as compelling in its economy of line and in the improbability of its engineering as it is possible to imagine, giving the marriage of form and function the invisibility of the air we breathe, and the beauty we see in nature.”

The Pritzker Architecture Prize was founded in 1979 by the late Jay A. Pritzker and his wife, Cindy. Its purpose is to honour annually a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and excellence, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture. The laureates receive a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion.

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