Neri Oxmans Material Ecology - Surfaces Reporter Exclusive

Neri Oxman Material Ecology

From tree bark and crustacean shells to silkworm webs and human breaths, nature has had a significant impact on Neri Oxman’s innovative design and production processes. Oxman is a professor of media arts and sciences at the MIT Media Lab, where she founded and directs The Mediated Matter Group. She has coined the term “material ecology” to explain her process of bringing together materials science, digital fabrication technologies, and organic design to produce techniques and objects informed by the structural, systemic, and aesthetic wisdom of nature. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) housed “Neri Oxman: Material Ecology”, an exhibition featuring the work of architect, designer, and inventor Neri Oxman. SURFACES REPORTER (SR) takes you to an exclusive tour of the installation view of Neri Oxman: Material Ecology, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Throughout her twenty years career, Oxman has developed not only new ways of thinking about materials, objects, buildings, and construction methods, but also new frameworks for interdisciplinary—and even interspecies— collaborations.

"Derived from shrimp shells and fallen leaves, these materials are 3-D printed by a robot, shaped by water and augmented with natural pigments to create bio-compatible composites with functional mechanical, chemical and optical property gradients."

The exhibition includes seven major projects that Oxman has created in the course of her 20-year career. Through her work, Oxman has pioneered not only new ideas for materials, objects, buildings, and construction processes, but also frameworks for interdisciplinary—and interspecies—collaborations.

Neri Oxman at MoMA was organized by Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator, Department of Architecture and Design, and Director, Research & Development; and Anna Burckhardt, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Architecture and Design, The Museum of Modern Art.

Neri-3D Printing Architecture and Design

Integrating computational form-generation with in-depth research of natural phenomena and behaviours, material ecology operates at the intersection of biology, engineering, and materials- and computer science. The configuration of the bark of birch trees, the characteristics of crustaceans’ shells, the behaviour of silkworms, the expressions of melanin, or the flow of human breath have generated new design and production processes.

While each research project is individually groundbreaking, taken as a group, they constitute a new philosophy of designing and making—and even unmaking—the world around us.

The projects selected for the exhibition are a demo for a library of originally conceived materials and processes that will in the future be available to all architects and designers.

Each project was displayed alongside videos that highlighted the science behind it and its production process. The objects and structures are all designed as if grown—no assembly required. Together, these projects celebrate a new age in which biology, architecture, and design join forces to build the future.

The centrepiece of the exhibition was Oxman’s silk Pavilion II, a site-specific commission on view for the first time at The Museum of Modern art, which continues Oxman’s research on the relationship between digital and biological fabrication at the architectural scale, which she initiated in 2013.

Neri-3D Printing Architecture and Design

A swarm of 6,500 silkworms were positioned at the bottom rim of the robotically manufactured initial structure, composed of non-woven silk patches, and they were tasked with filling the gaps. The overall density variation of the final structure was informed by the silkworm itself, which was deployed almost as a biological printer. Unlike accepted procedures in the silk industry, this project demonstrated a novel process by which silk cocoons are not boiled and the silkworms metamorphose normally while pupating, hatching, and laying eggs, enabling the construction of additional pavilions.

Seven years later, Oxman illustrated how the dynamics of this small and unique insect can influence rather than simply add to architectural forms, drawing from observations of their behaviour to create a structure that guides both movement and silk deposition. In other words, the silkworm can act not only as construction worker, but as architect.

Neri Oxman and The Mediated Matter Group. Silk Pavilion. 2013. A Bombyx mori silkworm deposits silk fiber on a digitally fabricated scaffolding structure.

The silkworm can act not only as construction worker, but as architect.

Other projects in the exhibition included aguahoja (2018), which deploys some of the most abundant biomaterials on our planet, such as cellulose, chitin, calcium carbonate, cornstarch, and pectin. Derived from shrimp shells and fallen leaves, these materials are 3-D printed by a robot, shaped by water and augmented with natural pigments to create bio- compatible composites with functional mechanical, chemical and optical property gradients.

NeriNeri Oxman and The Mediated Matter Group. Vespers. 2018. Series 1, Mask 5, front view.

They can be used to digitally produce structures and objects that embody the lightness and flexibility—as well as the biodegradability—of leaves and wings; and the toughness of seashells, varying in size from millimetres to meters.

During use, these aspects allow the structure to communicate with and respond to its environment; once obsolete, it biodegrades, dissociating to its molecular components to fuel new growth.

neri

 

"Glass i and ii (2015 and 2017) are created through a high-fidelity, large-scale, additive manufacturing technology for 3-D printing optically transparent glass structures at architectural dimensions—in essence, a 3-D printer for the type of glass usually employed to harness solar energy."

NeriNeri Oxman and The Mediated Matter Group. Totems. 2018. Produced by Stratasys, Ltd.

Totems has been 3-D printed to include six distinct liquid channels and pockets. Each pocket contains melanin from a different species, from bird to cuttlefish.And the mask is designed for The New Ancient Collection, curated and 3-D printed by Stratasys.

NeriInstallation view of Neri Oxman: Material Ecology

"Harnessing silkworms’ ability   to generate a 3-D cocoon out of a single silk thread, oxman and her research group created the overall geometry of a geodesic dome by using an algorithm that assigns a single continuous thread across patches providing various degrees of density."

 

NeriInstallation view of Neri Oxman: Material Ecology

Neri Oxman and The Mediated Matter Group. Aguahoja I. 2018. The Aguahoja Artifacts Display: A catalog of material experiments spanning four years of research shows the range of aesthetics and behaviors we have been able to elicit in medium-to-large-scale prints via performative geometric toolpaths, generative design, bio-composite distributions, and variable fabrication parameters.

The research at the core of this work fuses digital fabrication and design computation with chemical reaction dynamics.

A large-scale architectural proposal for an environmentally responsive, melanin-infused glass structure is part of a long-term project initiated by Design Indaba, a yearly design conference in Cape Town, South Africa. 

Neri

Totems speculates upon designers’ abilities to chemically synthesize melanin—the pigment of life—and program its interaction across scales and species. The first prototype, commissioned as part of the XXII Triennale di Milano Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human survival (2019), also curated by Paola Antonelli, demonstrates melanin production at an architectural scale for specific environmental contexts.

Each object is designed as a column—a chemical totem— and initiated with tyrosinase, an enzyme from a mushroom whose reaction allows for melanin to be synthesized.

About Neri Oxman

Architect And Designer Neri Oxman Is the Sony Corporation career development professor and associate professor of Media Arts and sciences at the MIT Media Lab, where she founded and directs the mediated matter research group. she has coined the term “material ecology” to explain her process of bringing together materials science, digital fabrication technologies, and organic design to produce techniques and objects informed by the structural, systemic, and aesthetic wisdom of nature. 

*All Images Courtesy: The Museum of Modern Arts and MoMA

 

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