Neri Oxman combines digital fabrication, materials science and synthetic biology to create extraordinary designs

Who is Neri Oxman?

Neri Oxman belongs to a rare tribe of people who amalgamate technology and biology and thus create an entirely new world of materials and designs that seamlessly match the environment which they inhabit. Rigidity, elasticity, color, transparency and conductivity. She is an inventor, architect, computation designer, artist and a recipient of acclaimed Cooper Hewitt Design award for interaction design. 

She and her team at MIT Media lab, where she has founded Mediated Matter research group, research, visualise and create extra-ordinary designs by combining  digital fabrication, materials science and synthetic biology. Oxman’s goal is to augment the relationship between built, natural, and biological environments by employing design principles inspired and engineered by Nature, and implementing them in the invention of novel design technologies. SURFACES REPORTER (SR) has compiled some of her intersting designs and how they are created. Have a look and let us know what do you feel about these designs in the comment.


Programmable Water-Based Biocomposites for Digital Design and Fabrication across scales. Aguahoja is an exploration of Nature’s design space. A collection of natural artifacts were digitally designed and robotically fabricated from the molecular components found in tree branches, insect exoskeletons, and our own bones.With a novel water-based design approach and fabrication platform that enable tight integration between material synthesis, digital fabrication, and physical behavior, at scales that approach—and often match—those of natural ecologies.

Aguahoja recapitulates Nature’s material intelligence in the ways we design and fabricate the grown environment.Derived from organic matter, printed by a robot, and shaped by water, this work points toward a future where the grown and the made unite.

Silk Pavillion


The Silk Pavilion explores the relationship between digital and biological fabrication on product and architectural scales.The primary structure was created of 26 polygonal panels made of silk threads laid down by a CNC (Computer-Numerically Controlled) machine. 

Inspired by the silkworm’s ability to generate a 3D cocoon out of a single multi-property silk thread (1km in length), the overall geometry of the pavilion was created using an algorithm that assigns a single continuous thread across patches providing various degrees of density. Overall density variation was informed by the silkworm itself deployed as a biological printer in the creation of a secondary structure. A swarm of 6,500 silkworms was positioned at the bottom rim of the scaffold spinning flat non-woven silk patches as they locally reinforced the gaps across CNC-deposited silk fibers. Following their pupation stage the silkworms were removed.

Silk Pavillion II


What are radically sustainable methods for knitting, making and building in the age of the Anthropocene? How can humankind and members of other species such as silkworms collaborate in the construction of objects, products, and buildings? Can we extract silk without boiling cocoons?  Standing six meters tall and five meters wide, Silk Pavilion II offers insights into these questions by combining kinetic manufacturing with biological construction, uniting the built and the grown, fusing technology and biology.

 The Pavilion is comprised of three interrelated layers. Its innermost primary structure is comprised of one-dimensional, braided steel-wire ropes.  Its secondary structure is a two-dimensional fabric on which the silkworms are positioned. The tertiary, three-dimensional structure is biologically spun with the output of 17,532 silkworms sourced from Teolo, Italy, at one of the most extensive silkworm rearing facilities in Europe. In this region of Veneto, the tradition of sericulture and silk manufacturing blossomed during the 12th century Renaissance. During 10 days of co-creativity among silkworms, a kinetic apparatus and humans, a ‘swarm’ of silkworms spin a length of thread longer than the diameter of Planet Earth.

The Death Mask

Image credit:Denis Doorly

Traditionally made of a single material, such as wax or plaster, the death mask originated as a means of capturing a person’s visage, keeping the deceased "alive" through memory. Lazarus serves as an ‘‘air urn’’ memento that is a new form of 3D printed portraiture, combining the wearer’s facial features while serving as a spatial enclosure for their last breath.


Fibonacci’s Mashrabiya


Prototype for an Environmental Screen, 2009-2011 In collaboration with Prof. W. Craig Carter (MIT)  This work reinterprets the ancient art of Mashrabiya design through the lens of digital fabrication technologies. Inspired by fractal patterns found in Nature (such as the Fibonacci series), this screen wall “shapes” the form of the environment by creating a spiraling vortex of light and air. The design generation process results in different textural forms depending on the desired microclimate in a specific environmental context.



Beast is an organic-like entity created synthetically by the incorporation of physical parameters with digital form-generation protocols. A single continuous surface, acting both as structure and as skin, is locally modulated for both structural support and corporeal aid. Beast combines structural, environmental, and corporeal performance by adapting its thickness, pattern density, stiffness, flexibility, and translucency to load, curvature, and skin-pressured areas respectively.


Vespers is a collection of masks exploring what it means to design (with) life. From the relic of the death mask to a contemporary living device, the collection embarks on a journey that begins with an ancient typology and culminates with a novel technology for the design and digital fabrication of adaptive and responsive interfaces.

Gemini Chaise Lounge

Conveying the relationship of twins in the womb through material properties and their spatial  arrangement, Gemini combines both traditional and innovative manufacturing processes, the  two piece cocoon-like structure combines subtractive and additive manufacturing. 

Information and Image courtesy: Neri Oxman; The Mediated Matter group; The Museum of Modern Art; MIT Media labKeep visiting 

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