Currently reading : Dead Loads

Dead Loads

29 April 2014

Author : helenlevin


Structurally, every building is both alive and dead. The sequence of foundations, columns, beams, trusses or load bearing walls emerges through calculations of the expected live load and dead load that each structural element will uphold. The live loads are those that are unpredictable and move around: people, equipment, furniture, weather and unexpected vibrations. The dead loads are derived from the weight of the constructed material.

Frei Otto believes that there is lightness in this structural death. While the live load determination is fixed, the dead load is designer-based, thus ripe for experimentation. The less material that is used in the structural construction, the more efficient the result will be. An efficient structure translates into less impact on the earth and begins to imply limited temporality in its weightlessness.

Indeed, included in the desire for lightness is Frei Otto’s “endorsement of obsolescence” in each structure. In other words, no building should have designed mortality. Imagine the typical structural load consideration of building design. Now factor the dynamism and harmony of the earth’s natural cycle. Add societal transformations, requiring different structures for different uses to this algorithm. The result is absolutely a conscientiously mortal building. Frei Otto “hesitates to pursue a project unless he is certain that its realization will be temporary enough to not be in man’s way.”

This position indicates a polite anarchism through death. A delicate rebellion against the monumental architectural quest. An eternally living building may prove for years to come that one person or group had the right to rule over others through a declaration of permanence. Frei Otto’s “reluctance to fill the earth’s surface with lasting buildings” bows to the next generations to do what they want with the earth and not be obliged by past generations’ claims of dominance.








Frei Otto’s structures reconsider the role of a designer. “Frei does not deny the sculptural quality of his work but maintains that the forms are nothing but the physical manifestation of the laws that govern the nature of materials and that they remain unattainable to anyone who attempts to produce these forms in an exclusively subjective manner.” The work is not purely an expression of personal desire, but an expression of universal mathematical formulas harnessed and expressed through available materials.

How universal are these equations, astronomically universal? Frei Otto believes that when, either through necessity or curiosity, off earth colonization begins, we will see that the light-dead compositions are “the only building type suited for extra terrestrial conditions.”



All images and quotes from: The Work of Frei Otto. Museum of Modern Art; (1972).




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