Neri Oxman has devoted her career to researching how digital modelling and fabrication technology can mediate between matter and environment to fundamentally evolve the way we build and create our built world as a planner, architect, artist, and member of the Mediated Matter community at MIT’s Media Lab. 

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In the last few decades, a new global paradigm has emerged: the World-as-Organism. The ability to instil intelligence into artefacts, houses, and communities is sparked by this modern paradigm. It is a model that contrasts with the Industrial Revolution’s framework or the World-as-Machine.

Silk Pavilion by Neri Oxman: Relationship between digital and biological fabrication - Sheet2
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Although the modern model will finally become the new norm, it will coexist with the old model for the time being: our minds are now used to this new way of seeing the world, but we continue to use the architectural methods and architecture patterns that we inherited from the industrial age.

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Material As The New Software

What are fundamentally ecological weaving, making, and construction practices in the Evolution of life? How do humans and members of other animals, such as silkworms, work together to produce objects, items, and structures? Is it possible to remove silk without boiling the cocoons? Silk Pavilion, which stands six meters tall and five meters high, answers these questions by fusing kinetic manufacturing and biological design, uniting the constructed and the grown, and fusing technology and biology.

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Designing with Nature: CNC Silk Spinning 

Via the prism of biology, the Silk Pavilion challenged manufacturing’s mentality. Biology evolves in a three-dimensional space in a much more complicated manner than conventional bioprinters. A silkworm cocoon is one of nature’s most sophisticated structures, and undoubtedly one of its most sophisticated architectures. 

Oxman attempted to reproduce this logic and behavior in the design of a bucky dome, except this time the dome would be constructed of a single fibre that will differ its properties locally as a result of its structural and environmental efficiency. The outer structure or the scaffolding is a mechanically woven silk, A CNC (Computer-Numerically Controlled) system laid down 26 polygonal panels made of silk threads as the primary structure. which is then combined with biologically spun silk to form a structure that is again biologically constructed together with a help of man-made technology. 

To achieve this 65,000 silkworms were brought in and fed for 4 weeks and once they were ready for spinning. They were placed at the bottom rim of the structure and then they spin over the structure for 3 weeks. Given that every silkworm spins about 1km of silk in its lifetime, 65,000 silkworms together spin 65,000 KM, Which matter of fact is the same length as that of the silk route. 

The pavilion’s overall geometry was developed using an algorithm that assigned a single continuous thread through patches of varying degrees of density. The silkworm’s use as a biological printer in the development of a secondary structure affected overall density variation.

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The silkworms were removed after they had completed their pupation period. The moths that result will lay 1.5 million eggs, which can be used to build up to 250 more pavilions. Silkworms were observed to move to darker and denser areas as a result of spatial and environmental factors such as geometrical complexity, as well as differences in natural light and heat. Variations in material arrangement around the structure’s surface area are affected by desirable light effects. 

The position, scale, and density of apertures inside the structure are determined by a season-specific sun path diagram mapping solar trajectories in space to lock-in rays of natural light approaching the pavilion from the south and east elevations. The central oculus, which is situated against the east elevation and can be seen as a sun clock, is located against the east elevation.

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The question is again, are these the building and design technologies of the future? Is it possible to combine biology and technology in a way that works without disrupting nature’s natural order? Tools have implications, and the field of architecture has been dominated by the rigors of engineering and mass production since the industrial revolution. Designers and architects have been taught to think of structures as individual components with distinct functions, but you don’t see homogeneous content constructed in nature. 

Oxman sincerely feels that it is our job as designers to bring Charles Darwin’s and Henry Ford’s philosophies, organic and machine, growth and assembly, together. Moving away from assembly and toward growth.

We live in a time when we designers have access to a tool that we never had before such as computational design allowing us to design complex forms with simple code, Additive manufacturing letting us produce parts by adding material rather than carving it out, Materials engineering letting us alter the behavior of the material and synthetic biology enabling us to code new biological functionality by editing the DNA. Where all these intersect is where the key to the future lies.

References

Silk Pavilion. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://mediatedmattergroup.com/silk-pavilion

Rosenfield, K. (2013, January 18). Printing 3D Buildings: Five tenets of a new kind of architecture / Neri Oxman. Retrieved March 13, 2021, from https://www.archdaily.com/320986/printing-3d-buildings-five-tenets-of-a-new-kind-of-architecture-neri-oxman

Rawn, E. (2014, August 08). Animal Printheads, Biomimicry and More: How Nature Will Shape the Built Environment of the Future. Retrieved March 13, 2021, from https://www.archdaily.com/535674/animal-printheads-biomimicry-and-more-how-nature-will-shape-the-built-environment-of-the-future

WorldEconomicForum. (2016, February 19). Retrieved March 13, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAA0DfAdiIU&ab_channel=WorldEconomicForum

TEDtalksDirector. (2015, October 29). Retrieved March 13, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVa_IZVzUoc&ab_channel=TED

Tushar Arora
Author

Tushar is currently an architecture student in VIT. Whenever he finds time from browsing through memes, he's constantly lost in dreaming about new conspiracy theories. He is constantly trying to stay awake through online classes one class at a time.

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