Self-Designing Structures
Frei Otto


Frei Otto

©Frei Otto & The Institute For Lightweight Structures

Very often I'm asked am I an architect or engineer or biologist or what else. Of course my training is a training of architecture, and I'm a trained stonemason too. But my heart is more one of a natural scientist. I am not so much interested as many architects to force forms into a building, to model a building, and to talk on facades or colours or sizes just done by man. I'm more interested to discover how structures are made by nature. Many people do not know that in non-living nature, structures are made, like stars, like mountains, like rivers, they are all structures. And these structures are coming together and they are always done, even today. This is my interest and the interest of our group, to study these self-designing structures.


Soap Bubble

©Frei Otto & The Institute For Lightweight Structures

So we discovered very long years ago that one of the most important structures of the non living nature are just the water drops in the fog, or the soap bubbles which are blown up millions of years in the soap bubbles in the water. And from these elements we know today that nature was a chemical process on the one side, and on the other side it was a physical process. And what we are doing today in architecture, of course only in the so called lightweight architecture, is just the same. The most interesting processes in non-living and living natures are the self designing processes. And to study these is a great adventure, how things are made by themselves. We are interested in the self-making processes on the one side and in the analysis of these processes on the other side. When we know a process, when we know the object which the processes are made. We have to analyse it. It doesn't matter if it's a mountain, a river, a natural column or arch, or just a soap bubble. Analysing them means to know how much, it's one method of analysing, how much material or how much energy is needed to make an object. Many objects in nature are made with much less energy. Some objects are gaining energy; they are coming together by themselves. But to know the material, to know the energy, is very important. And third, it is to know the processes so well, that you are able to make objects with the same processes of coming together. There are a few quite easy to understand processes. Everyone knows when you have a tennis racquet and you span a net in this racquet, and if the racquet is curved in a plane, that this net is a plane. And when you have a soap bubble in your hands, and you put it in liquid and you make your hands like a ring and put the soap bubble in, it gives a so called minimal surface. That's one of those secrets. Another one is very much known from lightning and rivers, and we know this structure and living nature quite well from trees and from the elements of the body of animals. The so called tree structure of the blood vessels are working like it. These are structures which can, not always, arrange themselves like the rivers, or which are arranged by living nature to fulfil certain functions. And automatically, man can use this type of structure for transport but even for load bearing.

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