Sleeping Beauty
Reinventing Frei Otto’s Multihalle

In Venice, the “Sleeping Beauty” Multihalle was awakened to new life. The exhibition “Sleeping Beauty – Reinventing Frei Otto’s Multihalle” at the 16th Biennale di Venezia (International Architecture Exhibition) in 2018 narrated the creation process of this architectural masterpiece and its rediscovery as a symbol of an urban vision of Mannheim’s future.

The exhibition was initiated and curated by Berlin urbanist and curator Sally Below and Prof. Dr. Georg Vrachliotis, who is Professor for Architectural Theory at the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology (KIT) and head of the saai (Southern German Archive for Architecture and Civil Engineering) based there. Prof. Vrachliotis had previously also curated the Frei Otto exhibition at the ZKM (Centre for Art & Media) in Karlsruhe.

The following video by Arthur Bauer provides insightful impressions of the internationally acclaimed show in Venice.

The exhibition

The saai and the City of Mannheim jointly staged the exhibition “Sleeping Beauty – Reinventing Frei Otto’s Multihalle” on the occasion of the 16th Biennale di Venezia. The exhibition highlighted the experimental aspects of the Multihalle creation process and of the current ‘new start’, the development process recently begun in Mannheim.

150 guests – an international group from the realms of architecture, culture, urban development, politics, academia, and the trade press – came to the isle of Giudecca to celebrate the festive opening ceremony. Gunther Adler, state secretary at the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community, held the opening speech and, after a tour with the curators, stressed the need for courage to experiment, particularly in these times. Adler sees the Multihalle as a cultural heritage that still continues to set standards and provide inspiration. He praised the City of Mannheim’s commitment to developing a concept for the Multihalle.

The exhibition project was initiated and curated by Berlin urbanist and curator Sally Below and Professor Georg Vrachliotis, Professor for Architectural Theory and head of the saai, who also curated the Frei Otto exhibition at the ZKM in Karlsruhe. Both have been acting as advisors to the City of Mannheim for some time now on the ongoing project to redevelop the Multihalle. Marc Frohn from FAR frohn&rojas, and also a professor at the KIT, was the exhibition architect.

“The Multihalle is a masterpiece of engineering, but it also presents us with challenges. Its planned ‘reinvention’ also symbolises the transformation of our city, as Mannheim is in the midst of a comprehensive renewal process. There is scientific, artistic, and general public interest in a concept for the future of the Multihalle,” commented Dr. Peter Kurz, Lord Mayor of the City of Mannheim.

Interest in the exhibition lasted beyond the preview days. Visitors included renowned and famous representatives from the architecture scene as well as interested members of the public from all over the world.

Mannheim’s Multihalle radiates appeal to the present day, as was clearly reflected by the response from the organising parties, partners, sponsors and exhibition visitors, as well as by the media coverage. Besides the abundant positive feedback on the exhibition itself, there were many suggestions for new uses of the Multihalle, including using it as a concert hall, a cultural centre and recreation venue, as a university site or research centre. The exhibition provided ample food for thought.

Christoph Engel, Carmen Mundorff

Below are some selected media opinions:

“Sleeping Beauty … Mannheim’s Multihalle by Frei Otto still possesses innovative power – even for the Biennale di Venezia.”
Badische Zeitung

“Star performance in Venice … the Sleeping Beauty exhibition is held in a small harbour building, off the tourist track, that belongs to the Association of the Gondolieri. And there they all hang, Frei Otto’s original plans and photos of this self-supporting, beautiful, undulating marquee-like landscape without any edges or corners. Everything is round and harmonious.”

“For the stressed and the rushed, hassled by the commotion and the crowds, we recommend visiting a German gem in Venice, of all places. Go and see the enchanting exhibition about Mannheim’s Multihalle by posthumous Pritzker Prize winner Frei Otto, on the quiet isle of Giudecca, next to Palladio’s Il Redentore. … “Sleeping Beauty” has made its way to Venice, where the German government, represented by state secretary Gunther Adler, has finally drawn meaningful interest. The exhibition itself is a small structural marvel. In a former industrial building, the curators have suspended a timber construction from the visible roof structure, and braced it so that nothing will waver or sway. The history of building the Multihalle in Mannheim is explained in a comprehensible way – and now we can only hope that it will be properly renovated and used.”

“Sleeping Beauty” is the name of the exhibition organised in Venice by the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology (KIT) and curators Sally Below and Georg Vrachliotis. Anyone who has ever visited Frei Otto’s wonderful Multihalle in Mannheim will understand the title all too well. Built as a multi-purpose hall on the occasion of the National Garden Show in 1975, it is still considered the world’s largest timber grid shell [construction]. The exhibition gives visitors an insight into Frei Otto’s design process. Pictures, films and plans epitomise the joy Frei Otto obviously had experimenting with and through his work. On [the isle of] Giudecca, Sally Below and Georg Vrachliotis have realised an exhibition on Frei Otto’s Multihalle Mannheim that is most definitely worth seeing.”

“What a beautiful exhibition! Congrats Georg Vrachliotis, Sally Below, and Marc Frohn. The beauty is awake.”
Anh-Linh Ngo, ARCH+

“A highlight of this year’s Biennale. The show that should have been in the German Pavilion.”

“Go into the city! Or onto the island. Biennale highlights away from Arsenale and Giardini: beyond the official programme, there are numerous other projects teeming around the fairways of the Biennale. … And on Giudecca, the spectrum ranges from Frei Otto’s Multihalle to the relationship between cruising and architecture to Gino Valle’s fabulous social housing.”

“Kissed awake … slowly but surely over the years. That was how the Multihalle was represented at the Biennale in Venice with the exhibition “Sleeping Beauty – Reinventing Frei Otto’s Multihalle””.
Kulturmagazin Metropolregion Rhein-Neckar

“Much deserved praise was given to the debut of the Vatican, where eleven international architects each built a chapel on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. Combine a visit there with the exhibition ‘Reinventing Frei Otto’s Multihalle’ only two boat stops further on; available until the end of July.”
Deutsches Architektenblatt

“That exhibitors from KIT Karlsruhe are masters of their craft and that nothing they present will waver, will surprise nobody. But that they are presenting the Mannheim Multihalle (from 1974) in Venice, may well do so. They have thematised Frei Otto’s and Carlfried Mutschler’s masterpiece in an old shipyard building on Giudecca, and called it “Sleeping Beauty”. It is common knowledge that this epic structure has been languishing in obscurity for years, rotting away. This wonderfully designed exhibition now promotes its renovation and revitalisation to an international audience. Absolutely worth seeing.”
Momentum Magazin

“A ‘must-see’ for anyone from Baden-Württemberg is the saai exhibition “Sleeping Beauty”, which is (only) open until July 29th in a small shipyard building on Giudecca.”
Architektenkammer Baden-Württemberg

More impressions of the “Sleeping Beauty – Reinventing Frei Otto’s Multihalle” exhibition.

The exhibition in BauNetz: