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German Architect Posthumous Winner of Top Architecture Prize

Frei Otto, the celebrated German architect, posthumously received the top prize in international architecture mere hours after his death was announced.

Otto, who was 89, is best known for his work at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Applauded for his pioneering work in lightweight structures, he was named the winner of the 2015 Pritzker Prize. He was informed of the honour in January, but according to the committee, this is the first time a winner has died before the announcement was officially made.

Pritzker chairman Peter Palumbo said that Otto’s death was a “sad and striking” example of the truism that time waits for no man. A Pritzker Prize spokesman said that Otto was both humble and happy on learning that he was the 2015 recipient. The architect was quoted as saying, "I've never done anything to gain this prize.” Otto said he was “very happy” but that prizewinning had never been a goal for him.

The architect, who slowly went blind in the last years of his life, was widely recognized for his tent-style designs. His best-known works include the aviary at the Munich Zoo and the German pavilion at the 1967 Montreal expo. Younger architects echoed his work on the canopies for Gunter Behnisch's 1972 Olympic stadium when they designed the Eden Project and the Millennium Dome. In 2005 Otto was the recipient of the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects.

The following year he won the 18th annual Praemium Imperiale prize for architecture. British architect Richard Rogers called Frei Otto one of the twentieth century’s great architects and engineers. Mr Rogers said that the German architect’s work has influenced and inspired modern architecture, which emphasizes “economy, light and air."


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Frei Otto was born in 1925 in Siegmar, Germany, and grew up in Berlin. His father was a sculptor, and as a young student he was appenticed as a stonemason. After World War II, he studied architecture at theTechnical University of Berlin. His architecture was lightweight, open in design, and both democratic and low-cost. In 1968 he was named an Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, and Olympia Baugesellschaft in Munich commissioned him to create construction measurement models for the main sports stadium roof in the Munich Olympic Park. From 1964 to 1991, he was a professor at the University of Stuttgart.

The Pritzker Prize will be awarded on May 15 at a Miami ceremony.

Past recipients will pay tribute to Otto’s life and work. Each year this international award, which consists of a bronze medallion and $100,000 US, is bestowed on a living architect(s) whose work embodies vision, talent, and commitment. The recipient typically has used their art to provide significant and consistent contributions to humanity and the built environment. The Pritzker Prize was established by the Pritzker family of Chicago in 1979. It is frequently referred to as the profession’s highest honour and architecture’s version of the Nobel prize.


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