Frei Otto – Occupying and Connecting

Frei Otto is probably most famous for the Munich Olympic Stadium tenting that he designed/engineered for the 1972 Olympics. Which is highlighted in the below video:

He also wrote a handful of books, including a tiny book entitled “Occupying and Connecting: Thoughts on Territories and Spheres of Influence with Particular Reference to Human Settlement.” It consists of two sections (one on occupying and one on connecting) with many diagrams and small dense paragraphs describing concepts.

Much of what Frei Otto does is diagram connections between how the natural world in various incarnations (from plants to bubbles to ink drops to animals) and humans occupy space (e.g. develop towns) and connect (build pathways, road systems, etc.). For instance, “A Puzzle” (diagram 153, page 51) shows various occupation outlines (leaf veins, cracked clay, human cities, animal paths) in simple black and white. It is nearly impossible to tell which is which. He points out that it would be odd to have designed a city, like Istanbul, based on the pattern of a leaf, and yet somehow they end up being very much the same.

His experiments with magnets are also interesting in that they diagram distancing and attracting occupation, similar to how people tend to fill up spaces like parks or elevators. [After reading this book, I very much wanted to build one of these experiments in the shape of an actual park with movable seating and compare it to observations of the real park to see if the experiment does predict human occupation.]

This book is one of my favorites since you can read just a little and have a great deal to ponder (plus the diagrams are intriguing). The little vignettes are dense and tightly written, yet also provide adequate space for the reader to take the concepts further (you may want to have a sketch book nearby while reading). It is essentially a delightful and inspiring peek into the mind of a great designer.

Otto, F., & Burkhardt, B. (2009). Occupying and connecting: Thoughts on territories and spheres of influence with particular reference to human settlement. Stuttgart: Edition Axel Menges.

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