Commemorative canopy

September 1st, 2015 / By: / Projects

Frei Otto pioneered architectural use of tensile membranes, but also worked with other materials and systems, such as grid shells, bamboo and wooden lattices. The late Walter Bird, founder of Birdair Inc., collaborated with Otto on various tensile membrane structures. Photo: Birdair Inc.
Frei Otto pioneered architectural use of tensile membranes, but also worked with other materials and systems, such as grid shells, bamboo and wooden lattices. The late Walter Bird, founder of Birdair Inc., collaborated with Otto on various tensile membrane structures. Photo: Birdair Inc.

The first name of Frei Otto, a pioneer in tensioned fabric architecture born in 1925 in Siegmar, Germany, translates to “free” in his native tongue. The gifted architect developed his vision of lightweight architecture following stints as a stonemason for his parents (both sculptors), a pilot in WWII, a prisoner of war charged with camp architecture and a devotee of organic, earth-based forms and materials. Otto passed away on March 9, 2015, at age 89. He received the Pritzker Architecture Prize, often called architecture’s Nobel prize, posthumously on May 16, 2015, and the Hyatt Foundation (created by the Pritzker family of Chicago) wanted a special venue for the ceremony.

Birdair Inc., Buffalo, N.Y., developed an open-air hyperbola formed by 1,000 square feet of tensioned PVC membrane to resemble an iconic 1955 Frei Otto canopy design. Birdair installed the graceful, soaring canopy at the New World Center in Miami Beach, Fla., a building design by 1989 Pritzker Prize laureate Frank Gehry.

In a life rich with study, observation, architectural projects, teaching, publication and international travel, Otto created memorable tensioned architecture that left indelible impressions around the world.

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