“In nature, there is no separation between design, engineering, and fabrication; the bone does it all.” Neri Oxman

Neri Oxman is an American Israeli designer and professor at MIT where she leads the Mediated Matter research group. She is known for art and architecture that combine design, biology, computing, and materials engineering.

She defines her work with the words “material ecology” which enhances her usage of environmental elements and digital morphogenesis in her designs. Her trademark design solutions include various patterns and colors and usage of the composite of various materials available in nature.

Anthozoa. by Neri Oxman: 3D Printed Dress Sheet1
Neri Oxman- Designer Source-( https://sternspeakers.com/speakers/neri-oxman/ )

Oxman believes that the designs build themselves, she uses a lot of new techniques of 3D printing for her projects. Some of her projects are Silk Pavilion- A hybrid structure built using bees; Synthetic Apiary using bees and ants Ocean Pavilions- A water-based fabrication; and Anthozoa- A 3D printed cape and a skirt made of barnacles of hard white acrylic topped with soft black polyurethane rubber. The 3D printed panels laid over a steel cage padded with polyester batting and lined with cotton twill and silk satin, the topic of my essay today. 

Neri Oxman has been called “a person ahead of her time, not of her time” by Paola Antonelli and her work has been called “shatteringly different from anything before” by Bruce Sterling.

Anthozoa- The Origin

Anthozoa. by Neri Oxman: 3D Printed Dress Sheet2
Barnacles the design inspiration Source-(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barnacle )

The term Anthozoa is derived from the Greek word Anthos meaning flower and zoa meaning animal, due to its flower-like form in the early stages. Anthozoa is a class of marine invertebrates that includes sea anemones and soft and hard corals of the seabed. The polyp forms the basic unit of anthozoans which consists of a cylindrical column topped by a disc with a central mouth surrounded by tentacles that help them catch prey for survival. These organisms also add to the reefs in the ocean.

The Anthozoa-Cape and Skirt have been named, being inspired by these organisms and their anatomy of combining stiff and soft materials. The structure of the dress also derives its inspiration from barnacles which is a type of arthropod and is exclusively marine and tends to live in shallow and tidal waters.

Anthozoa. by Neri Oxman: 3D Printed Dress Sheet3
3D printed barnacles Source- (https://3dprintedart.stratasys.com/anthozoaskirtandcape )

Design Philosophy

Anthozoa. by Neri Oxman: 3D Printed Dress Sheet4
Design Philosophy- Neri Oxman Source-(https://cba.mit.edu/events/14.05.BB/Keating.pdf  )

Biomimicry is the root of all the philosophies of the designer. She very boldly inculcates material ecology in most of her designs and believes that the future of the design lies around us in nature, far beyond our comprehension. Creating prototypes through biology acts as a core to her designs. 

Oxman believes 3D printing can be the future of design in all its aspects. Usage of natural materials with self-healing properties, experimenting with the newer composition of materials, and multi-material 3D printing are the various stages of the design process of Neri Oxman and her team at the MIT media lab.

Her design process lies in the combination of four major factors:

  • Computational design to create complex designs with simple code.
  • Additive manufacturing to produce parts by adding materials.
  • Materials engineering to design behavior of various materials
  • Synthetic biology to design new biology functionality by altering the DNA.

The intersection of technology and biology is where her creation lies.

Anthozoa – Cape and Skirt

Anthozoa. by Neri Oxman: 3D Printed Dress Sheet5
Anthozoa- Cape and Skirt designed for Iris Van Herpen Paris fashion show, Voltage. Source-( https://3dprintedart.stratasys.com/anthozoaskirtandcape  )
Anthozoa- Cape and Skirt designed for Iris Van Herpen Paris fashion show, Voltage. Source-( https://3dprintedart.stratasys.com/anthozoaskirtandcape  ) 

Anthozoa was a successful and bold attempt to create a dress for the Paris fashion show using her design philosophies, in collaboration with Iris Van Herpen, exploring the idea of creating a cape and a skirt like a second skin of the user, made of a single part, stiff at the contours and flexible around the waist. 

The Anthozoa Cape and Skirt came into existence in collaboration with Neri Oxman long term 3D printing partner Stratasys, this dress was 3D printed with no seams in between the cells. This was made possible with high-resolution analytic and synthetic tools of 20-micron resolution, similar to that of human hair or a CT scanner, which enables the design of products that fit the shape of our bodies.                                                                                            

The cape was made of 3D printed barnacles made of hard white acrylic topped with soft black polyurethane rubber, which was then laid over a steel cage padded with polyester batting and lined with cotton twill and silk satin to make it suitable to wear with the dimensions 34x23x36 inches, 20×18 inches for the entire dress, the whole of which was printed on the Stratasys Objet Connex multi-material 3D printer. 

The entire dress was printed in a single build which enabled the printing of both hard and soft material components to be inculcated in the design which was crucial to the movement and texture of the dress. The ability to vary softness and elasticity inspired the designers to create a dress that also acts as armor in motion enabling them to design not only the garment’s form but also its motion.

The whole design of the dress acts as an extension of Neri Oxmans’ Imaginary beings: mythologies of not yet collection, which was taken a step further being classified as Wearable beings: myths that one can wear. This inspired Neri Oxman and Stratasys to set up a joint venture of designing algorithms that could map physical movement and material behavior to its form.

Anthozoa – The Story

Anthozoa- Cape and Skirt, Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Source-(https://www.trendvisionforecasting.com/macrotrends-2017/sophisticore/archive/sophisticore/iris-van-herpen-and-neri-oxman  )

The dress that was printed for the ‘Voltage’ Paris fashion show of Iris Van Herpen in the year 2013 July in Billerica in the USA went on to be exhibited for various occasions and talks on the material ecology and 3D printing. Later, it was sold to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston by Stratasys on September 25th, 2013, which was purchased by the museum using funds donated by the Fashion Council, where this masterpiece currently resides.


A feisty Feminist, Writer and an aspiring Architect with an interest in fashion,literature art and travel who finds it liberating to voice her opinions through words and believes fresh perspectives are essential for growth. She hates being put into a tiny box for societal comprehension and believes in breaking free. A keen observer and a lover of all things Architecture