Frei Otto’s Concept of a Workplace
A memorable symposium at the end of June proved how far-reaching Frei Otto’s conceptual heritage can be for today's generation of architects. The production site of furniture manufacturer Wilkhahn Wilkening + Hahne in Bad Münder, some 40 km south-west of Hannover, contains the only production buildings to be designed by the famous German architect anywhere in the world. The 30th anniversary of their completion prompted the seating and office furniture manufacturer to invite to its campus.
The four tent-roof pavilions, built as lightweight timber constructions, still represent the working methods of Frei Otto and the attitude of the company founded by Friedrich Hahne and Christian Wilkening in 1907. In 1984, the founder’s son, Fritz Hahne formulated the company’s demand as follows: “At Wilkhahn, no two bricks will be laid on top of each other until we are certain that something will be created in which the ecological and economic, aesthetic and humanitarian requirements are all met.” Frei Otto, in turn, believed strongly in cooperation. He discussed his plans with his workforce, the works council and the management, and integrated their wishes – for example for more views and windows – into his design.
The half-day lecture event included several representatives of the current architectural scene, all of whom had a connection to Frei Otto or who knew him personally. Georg Vrachliotis attested to the master builder a holistic design approach and teamwork. In addition to experimental and model-based thinking, he also sees communication as part of Otto’s conceptual heritage. Other speakers, including architects Eike Roswag-Klinge, Laura Fogarasi-Ludloff and Tobias Wallisser of LAVA demonstrated the influence of Pritzker Prize winner Otto and parallels between his work and their own projects. Ultimately what came up again and again was, whatever ideas and forward-looking projects are being planned today, the groundwork for them was laid by Frei Otto. His ecological, social and cultural design principles, alongside his innovative and experimental form finding, are more popular than ever.