Frei Otto, Hellabrunn Zoo aviary architect, dies aged 89

Frei Otto died on Monday, 9 March, in Warmbronn, near Stuttgart. The award-winning architect passed away shortly before his 90th birthday on 31 May. Hellabrunn Zoo had previously scheduled a press conference with the world-famous architect to mark his birthday.

Frei Otto was a visionary among architects with a passion for designing lightweight and flowing roof designs. His motto was "free, beautiful, light, elegant". This ideal is reflected in his design for the aviary at Hellabrunn Zoo, which opened in 1980 and spans an area of 5,000 m2. The following year, the airy construction was awarded the Bavarian BDA Architecture Prize by the Federation of German Architects. The design of the aviary is still seen as an architectural benchmark today. Frei Otto also designed another iconic work in Munich: the world-famous roof of the Olympic Stadium.

Zoo director Rasem Baban, who also studied architecture, hails Frei Otto as one of the most outstanding architects of the 20th century: "With the passing of Frei Otto, we have lost one of the great architects. In collaboration with Jörg Gribl, he was responsible for the construction of the spectacular, 22 m high aviary. Its innovative, thin, stainless steel mesh canopy is one of the most exciting structures at Hellabunn Zoo."

Christine Strobl, Mayor and Chairman of the zoo, is also inspired by Frei Otto's architecture: "I am an absolute fan of the aviary. Despite its size, it appears as light as a bird's feather. When it was first built, it was assumed the tensile structure would only have a useful life of about 20 years. But until now, the structure shows no signs of defects. In fact, the aviary is the building which we are least worried about at the zoo. The "little sister" of the famous Olympic roof is virtually maintenance-free."

Frei Otto was posthumously awarded the prestigious architecture award, the Pritzker Prize, for his visionary ideas and inquiring mind. The award is the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for architecture. Otto is the 40th recipient of the Pritzker Prize and only the second German to receive the award.