The provocative ‘material ecology’ by Neri Oxman lifestyle
Architect, computer designer, inventor and teacher at MIT Media Lab of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; she oversees the research of new ways of meeting between digital manufacturing technology which can interact with the biological world. Neri Oxman is leading a new era for design where microorganisms, bodies, products and buildings can interact symbiotically.
Going back to nature to find inspiration. Neri Oxman aims to enhance the relationship between built atmospheres, natural and biological. Her visionary work deals with no borders between science, design and art. She conceives creation as a conjunction between technology and biology.
Her team is full of geniuses. A biomedical engineer, a glass blower, a material scientist, a computer specialist in wet artificial intelligence and bacterial programming, an architect, a marine biologist and a beekeeper, among other specialists. They are geared towards creation by growing moss, mucilaginous mould, silkworms, bees, citrus, mushrooms and apple pectin; in a nutshell, these specialist achieve amazing things.
“In my research group, we believe in a future in which we will not build our products and architecture, but we will make them grow”, Neri Oxman.
Technology in computer design, together with synthetic biology, material engineering and 3D printing. This is how Neri Oxman and her team are developing the new discipline that they have coined as Material Ecology under the firm belief that the material itself is an inseparable part of the design.
Wanderers are wearables that were created as part of the exhibition ‘The sixth element: Exploring the natural beauty of 3D printing’ by EuroMold (Frankfurt, Germany), in collaboration with Christoph Bader and Dominik Kolb. A project which includes living matter in the form of modified bacteria within 3D structures that improve the environment.
Her formula goes beyond limits between disciplines to invent new building materials and structures. The objective is to turn the built spaces into natural biological atmospheres, taking nature itself as a creative mother and therefore applying its principles through the new technologies for design. The application is different and infinite, ranging from fields such as architecture, product design, fashion and new digital devices.
A true provocation which transmutes the limits of creation. From the age of the machine towards a new era of symbiosis in our bodies, the microorganisms we live with, our products, and even buildings.
The world of design has been dominated by the rigours of manufacturing and mass production since the Industrial Revolution. Assembly lines have led to a world made with pieces, confining designers to think like assemblies of parts with different functions. But in nature, there are no assemblies of homogeneous material. My work tries to get rid of assembling, and banks on growth instead.
In nature, organisms do grow. A worm cocoon is able to create highly sophisticated architecture which is home to its metamorphosis. And this is achieved by combining two proteins in different concentrations. Precisely, and in 3 weeks’ time, this is how Oxman has got 6.500 alive silkworms to weave 6.500km to create a silk pavilion with the help of robots, without the need to boil living beings in order to extract their fibre.
The Silk Pavilion explores the relationship between digital manufacturing and biological creation for both products and architectural scales.
She has created bright sheets of a material made from ground shrimp shell paste which ranges from opaque to translucent, and it is embedded with bacteria that has been designed to take carbon and turn it into sugar. As well as that, a portable digestive system which comes with photosynthetic bacteria which turns solar energy into sugar.
The big challenge now is to change the building and its materials as well. Trying to get materials which are versatile, which therefore release light and store energy. Right now, the group is creating a ‘biological building’ that could work as a structure and skin, by changing its concentration according to a diagram of the specific solar route of its location.
“We are here and remain committed because we can design an architectural skin as an optical lens, which opens up the possibilities of getting the most of solar energy on urban scales. These technologies should not be trivialised for entertainment purposes only, although potentially profitable solutions can help us reduce plastics. You have to start somewhere without selling your soul.
Anthozoa Project (2013). A 3D printed dress in collaboration with Iris Van Herpen for Paris Fashion Week. Iris Van Herpen, fashion designer (Amsterdam); Keren Oxman, artist and designer (NY); and W. Craig Carter (Department of Materials Science and Engineering, MIT) all contributed. Manufactured by Stratasys.
For Oxman, who has been described as the contemporary version of Leonardo da Vinci, we live a new era of creation in which design asks us to take care of nature. A new era of design and virgin beauty.
Made from a series of 3D printed membranes, Aguahoja (2018) is a large-scale structure created using a substance which, depending on its concentration, could be solid or transparent, rigid or soft. The material is made of chitosan, a polymer derived from crustaceans, pectin (a fiber found in apples and other fruits), and cellulose (which comes from plants). The material was water soluble and biodegradable. Chitosan, pectin and cellulose are also among the most abundant polymers on earth.
Recently, her work has been included in the second season of Netflix’s ‘Abstract’ series, and after picking up prestigious awards and acquiring great public recognition as one of the most revolutionary interdisciplinary thinkers in the world, in 2019, Neri Oxman publicly consolidates her work by winning the SFMOMA’s Contemporary Vision Award 2019 in San Francisco which will culminate with a retrospective of her work in 2021.
“Oxman boldly steps forward to address contemporary environmental concerns and existing systemic issues through science, technology and design, but mostly through imagination,” said Dunlop Fletcher. “Her vision of the future is one of hope and possibility, which is what we need”.
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