Martin Filler at the New York Review of Books:
Frei Paul Otto was born in 1925 and grew up in Berlin. His uncommon first name—which means “free” in German—reflected the values of his idealistic parents, members of the Deutscher Werkbund, which promoted public education in good design and collaboration between craftsmen and industry. Otto developed an early passion for sail gliding, which shaped his fascination for lightweight structures. Soon after he began his studies in 1943 at what is now the Technical University of Berlin, he was conscripted into the Luftwaffe. Captured by the Allies, he was incarcerated for two years, during which he served as a prison-camp architect, a position that forced him to address the most basic function of architecture—shelter.
After the war Otto completed his education and confronted the central challenge of his generation of German architects: how to create large-scale buildings that avoided the taint of Nazi design. Otto’s familiarity with aeronautic engineering led him to devise ultra-lightweight forms that derived from thin-membrane airplane parts made from reinforced fabric, the antithesis of the ponderous, stone-clad Stripped Classicism favored by Hitler. One of his earliest public successes was the gossamer-light dance pavilion he designed in 1957 for the Federal Garden Exhibition in Cologne, a five-peaked, mast-supported, white-fabric canopy in the shape of an exotic bloom that evoked the botanical theme of the event.