German architect and engineer Frei Otto has been awarded the 2015 Pritzker Prize, with the abrupt announcement of his win made two weeks ahead of schedule after the 89-year-old passed away on March 9, 2015.

The Pritzker Prize is only awarded to living architects, and Executive Director of the Prize Martha Thorne had travelled to Otto’s home in Warmbronn, Germany, to share the news with him in person. Learning he had received architecture’s top recognition, 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.”

^ Roofing for main sports facilities in the Munich Olympic Park for the 1972 Summer Olympics, 1968–1972, Munich, Germany

Otto is best known for his work on the large-scale tensile roofs designed for the 1972 Summer Olympics Munich Olympic Park facilities, which combined lightness and strength. The project however, is just one of his many “lightweight, open to nature and natural light, non-hierarchical, low-cost and energy-efficient” works.

“He believed in making efficient, responsible use of materials, and that architecture should make a minimal impact on the environment. Frei Otto was a utopian who never stopped believing that architecture can make a better world for all,” Pritzker Prize representatives said in a statement.


While not a household name, Otto’s pioneering use of lightweight structures that are adaptable, changeable and which carefully use limited resources are as relevant today as when they were first proposed over 60 years ago.

He also made important advances in the use of air as a structural material and to pneumatic theory, and the development of convertible roofs. Favouring collaboration in architecture, he made the results of his research available to other architects, and notably worked with 2014 laureate Shigeru Ban on Japan’s Expo 2000 Pavilion in Germany, and Rolf Gutbrod on the German Pavilion at the Montreal Expo of 1967.

Japan Pavilion, Expo 2000 Hannover, 2000, Hannover, Germany. Photo by Hiroyuki Hirai












Left: The 1967 International and Universal Exposition or Expo 67, 1967, Montreal, Canada. Photo by Burkhardt

 Right: Frei Otto, Montreal, Canada. Photo by von Schlaich

“His loss will be felt wherever the art of architecture is practiced the world over, for he was a universal citizen,” said Lord Peter Palumbo, chairman of this year’s jury.

“His influence will continue to gather momentum by those who are aware of it, and equally, by those who are not.”

“Nature, what is that? — living, loving, laughing” Drawing, 1984

The Pritzker Architecture Prize was founded in 1979, and seeks to honour annually a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and excellence, and which has contributed significantly and consistently to humanity and the built environment.

The jury for this year’s prize include architect Alejandro Araveno, US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Australian architect Glenn Murcutt, who is also a major proponent of lighweight architecture, and architect Richard Rogers. An award ceremony in Miami will still take place on May 15 to celebrate Otto’s “life and timeless work”.

Form-finding study for the support of textile membranes and rope nets

Diplomatic Club Heart Tent, 1980, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Aviary in the Munich Zoo at Hellabrunn, 1979-1980, Munich (Hellabrunn), Germany

Click HERE for all the reasons why Frei Otto is the 2015 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate.

All images courtesy of Atelier Frei Otto Warmbronn