Date: March 16, 2015, No. 14

Architect Frei Otto has died

University of Stuttgart mourns the pioneer of the Stuttgart lightweight construction

The University of Stuttgart is mourning one of the greatest pioneers of the lightweight construction, the Stuttgart architect and constructor Frei Otto, who died on 9 th March shortly before reaching his 90 th birthday. Frei Otto headed up the Institute for Lightweight Structures (IL) in the period from 1964 until 1991; that after the institute merged with the Institute for Construction and Design II in 2000 to form the present Institute for Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design (ILEK).


Prof. Wolfram Ressel, the Rector of the University of Stuttgart, said on the demise of Frei Otto: “We are mourning a representative of the “Stuttgart School“ who, since being appointed professor at the University of Stuttgart in 1964, contributed considerably towards the international renown of our faculties of architecture and urban planning as well as civil and environmental engineering. The University of Stuttgart will remember him for his intensive interdisciplinary working methods and his achievements acknowledged worldwide as a great designer of lightweight structures, like the tent roof construction of the Munich Olympic Stadium. Our sadness is mixed with the joy about the news that Frei Otto is to posthumously receive the Pritzker Prize, i.e. the “Nobel Prize for Architecture” as only the second German“.

Frei Otto was born in 1925. He studied architecture from 1948 at the TU Berlin and did his doctorate there in 1953 with the work that was to become famous “The Hanging Ceiling“ that was published as a book in 1954. The years following were characterised by work in his Berlin studio. In this period he performed a variety of fundamental investigations on the principles of lightweight structures, in particular on minimal surfaces, rope net and membrane constructions. Likewise in this period Frei Otto also designed a series of smaller but important structures, for example for several national garden shows. Still preserved from this period today is the roofing for the “Tanzbrunnen“ that was built on the occasion of the national garden show 1957 in Cologne. After a series of guest professorships at the universities of Washington, Ulm, Yale, Berkeley, MIT and Harvard, Frei Otto was appointed an honorary professor in 1964 at the University of Stuttgart. Upon his appointment the Institute for Lightweight Structures was founded. Since 1967 Frei Otto researched and taught as a regular professor at the University of Stuttgart.

The initial years of Frei Otto at the University were greatly characterised by the planning of structures for the Olympic Games in 1972, for which a whole range of institutes at the university were commissioned to perform fundamental development and research work. An interdisciplinary research team, in the core of which Frei Otto’s team was initially, laid the foundations in this period for the computer-based form-finding and calculation of large cable net structures, their constructive design, calculation and dimensioning. The knowledge acquired in this period at the University of Stuttgart, which was continued with the special research field 64 “Long-span shell structures“ and ultimately with the special research field 230 “Natural constructions“ and continuously expanded, forms the basis for the worldwide top position the University of Stuttgart holds in the field of lightweight structures in architecture and civil engineering.

The interdisciplinary approach to work runs through the entire work of Frei Otto. As early as 1961 he founded the research group “Biology and Building“ together with the biologist Johann-Gerhard Helmcke in Berlin. This cooperation with Helmcke and a number of other scientists, including biologists, medics and social researchers led to fundamental findings about the construction principles in living and non-living nature. The work performed by the special research area “Natural constructions“ marked a highpoint in this direction and a summary of the knowledge obtained. This and many other cooperations that cannot be reported on here in detail, led to a number of new findings and views still of high topicality today as well or better: particularly today again. Frei Otto fundamentally influenced architecture in the 20 th century.

Further information:

Dr. Hans-Herwig Geyer, Head of University Communication and Press Spokesperson, University of Stuttgart,
Tel.: 0711/685-82555, Email: hans-herwig.geyer [at]