Frei Otto's Munich Olympic Stadium for the 1972 Olympics continues to stun today, delivering on the promise of Bruno Taut's 1917 Expressionist sketches for an "Alpine Architecture" of glowing crystalline forms set in the mountains. I was fortunate enough to be able to walk the entire tensile roof surface and experience it as a crystalline landscape. In my mind, the Munich stadium is Expressionism done right. While the exuberance of his contemporaries, as well as current architects like Zaha Hadid investigate formal agendas, the incredible structural narrative that drives the formal consequences in Otto's work lends a convergent, poetic concision to the architectural and structural expression that so often is both problematic and bombastic in the work of others.
This brings to mind a comparison with Kenzo Tange's Yoyogi stadium for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Though the stadium typology is perhaps one in which formal expressionism and structure are by necessity more tightly bound together than in other building typologies by the sheer scale and openness of the space it must enclose, nonetheless, there is a rare synthetic quality between vernacular, structural, and formal drives in both examples. Each stadium can be read as a convergent outcome of three separate deterministic drivers and narratives, each a fully believable and self sufficient generator for the final architectural outcome. Yoyogi clearly contains references to vernacular Japanese roof forms in the gently curving central spine, terminating posts and elegantly sloping roof. However, it is equally read as a rational tension structure supporting a pair of compression arcs which form the perimeter and curving roof geometry. Finally, an abstract formal agenda can be read in the rotationally symmetric plan of curved half shells. In Frei Otto's Munich stadium, the building is read as a crystalline reference to the Alps, an expression of tensile surface structures, and a political statement on the transparent and accessible new Germany.
I find this convergence of multiple narratives to a single architectural outcome incredibly compelling, and incredibly rare in the built world. In an architectural culture colored by Bjarke Ingels' slick, reductive and singly deterministic sequential diagrams which reduce architecture to a step-by-step series of cuts, tugs and lifts in response to simple contextual or programmatic stimuli, and in an architectural culture colored by Zahas and Gehrys who engage building as a sort of sculptural expressionism covered in authorial fingerprints, the rich simultaneity and complexity of narrative in Yoyogi and Munich provides a happy reminder of the possibility of an architecture that is something more.