The 2015 Pritzker Architecture Prize was bestowed posthumously upon the great German architect Frei Otto. The award ceremony—held at the Frank Gehry-designed New World Center in Miami Beach, Florida—was a moving tribute to the man who changed the way we look at architecture. Otto passed away on March 9, 2015, shortly after Pritzker executive director Martha Thorne had flown to the city of Stuttgart to notify him he had won the Prize.
Some of the world’s most influential architects were present at the ceremony, including Pritzker laureates Glenn Murcutt (2002), Richard Rogers (2007), Shigeru Ban (2014), Lord Norman Foster (1999), Dame Zaha Hadid (2004), Thom Mayne (2005), and Jean Nouvel (2008). Christine Otto-Kanstinger accepted the medallion on behalf of her father.
In absentia, and to honor his legacy, a four-point tensile tent designed by Otto for the music pavilion at the 1955 Federal Garden Exhibition in Kassel, Germany, was reproduced for the occasion. It served as the entrance gate to a black-tie dinner, which set the mood as guests were treated to a Fanfare for the Prize composed by Michael Tilson Thomas as they made their way into the gala.
Lord Peter Palumbo, Chair of the Pritzker Prize jury, said Otto‘s “free spirit was to imbue and inform his architecture with the literature of life in the way that people feel sublimating the self in the interest and for the good of humanity and most especially for the poor and defenseless.” In their citation, the members of the jury acknowledged, “the lessons of his pioneering work in the field of lightweight structures that are adaptable, changeable and carefully use limited resources are as relevant today as when they were first proposed over 60 years ago.”
Frei Otto (1925-2015) was born in Siegmar, Germany the son of a stonemason and a sculptor. His mother prophetically named him Frei (Free in German). She couldn’t had foreseen the way this name would influence the work and glory of her son, whose most attractive structures remind us of the freedom of forms and ideas as a way to interpret what he called “lightness against brutality”.
After high school, Otto enrolled at the Technical University of Berlin to study architecture, but with the advent of WWII he was drafted into the German air force. He would later become a prisoner of war from 1945 to 1947 at a camp near Chartres, France, where he became the field architect. The lack of building materials forced him to learn and invent the basics of simple, lightweight construction.
1. Frei Otto, Montreal, Canada. Photo: