When the celebrated 20th century architect Frei Otto set out to design what is arguably his magnum opus, the roof of the Munich Olympic arena, he looked for inspiration from a curious source: soap.
With the fastidious bias of a natural scientist, Otto studied the forms of natural systems like soap films, bamboo, diatoms, and radiolarian. But he didn't copy what he saw. Rather than sculpting elegant counterfeits of what nature looked like from the outside, like a Greek Corinthian column chiseled to reference acanthus leaves, Otto imitated the internal processes by which nature arrives at its forms. But what could architecture and biology possibly have in common? Otto recognized that natural systems are self-stabilizing, optimization machines. Any changes in the internal or external environment have a direct consequence on the form, so why not design the final form by imitating the processes that create the form of natural objects?...

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