Competent Enginners Behind the Aesthetic and Structural Expression of Stuttgart School
Original Article written by Martin Trautz, Univ.-Prof. Dr.-Ing and Lorraine Lin, Ph.D., P.E.
These individuals formed the “critical mass” needed to extend the type of research conducted on the basics of structures, lightweight structures, structural detailing, and natural structures for which the Stuttgart School became famous.
“In Germany, the southern city of Stuttgart is a hot spot for engineering innovation. With a population of less than 600,000 inhabitants, Stuttgart is the home to internationally renowned companies, such as Daimler Benz, Bosch, and Porsche. However, not only premium cars and automotive products come from Stuttgart. The region is famous throughout Germany for the inventiveness of its people. It also gave birth to one of the most interesting modern movements in structural engineering and architecture, the “Stuttgarter Bauschule,” also known as the Stuttgart School of Building Design.
To a casual observer, a key feature of the Stuttgart School appears to be aesthetic and structural expression. However, hidden features which have made this possible include the high technical competence of engineers and architects, a high degree of integration of both disciplines starting at the university level, precision construction methods, and a desire to construct lightweight structures. The faculty at the local university has maintained close links with regional engineering offices; in fact, many of the key members of the Stuttgart School have been simultaneously university professors and partners in thriving engineering practices, which has allowed them both the resources to innovate new ideas and the actual projects to put them into practice. An important condition that facilitated the flourishing of structural innovation in Stuttgart has been the constellation of personalities associated with Stuttgart University.
Curt Siegel (1911-2004), professor of statics and structural design at the faculty of architecture between 1950 and 1970, widened the spectrum of that discipline by introducing a systematic classification of load-bearing structures as an additional topic of his lectures and as a new field of building sciences. Siegel called this new field, which joins together static analysis of structures and structural forms, “Tragwerklehre.” This can be translated as “teaching on structures” or the translation of statics and materials science into physical objects. In 1957, together with Fritz Leonhardt (see more below), who was then the chair of concrete structures at the faculty of civil engineering, Siegel organized design projects for students of architecture and structural engineering. Leonhardt recognized that Siegel’s approach to “teaching on structures” was instructive not only to architecture students but also structural engineering students, so he was instrumental in ensuring that it became part of the engineering curriculum, as well.
Around this time, Leonhardt and Siegel fostered the appointment of Frei Otto (see more below) as the chair of lightweight structures and the foundation of a connected institute that conducted research on related subjects, which later became famous as the “Institute for Lightweight Structures” (IL). Frei Otto is an architect with a deep understanding of all things related to structures, structural forms, and development of structures in nature as well as in engineering. He specialized in design of tents and cable-net structures, and had already established a research laboratory for lightweight structures in Berlin.”