Neri Oxman is an architect, scientist, engineer, and innovative inventor. She is known for combining scientific research and technologies to create innovative designs and materials. She is the founder of The Mediated Matter Group at MIT, where she mentors and works with a team of students to fuse technology and biology to deliver innovative designs. She specializes in a topic called Material Ecology. This is a design philosophy that explores the interrelationships between the built structures, the growing natural habitats, and the augmented technologies. She has a vision that in the future, our buildings and structures will be 3D printed, using biodegradable and ecological materials. These are some of her experiments and projects in the field. 

1. Monocoque series 

This is a project with a series of structural skins. The loads or weights are supported by the object’s external skin, which is similar to the concept of an eggshell. This also delves into the concept of biomimicry. The surfaces are printed in 3D, using a new technology called multi-jet matrix. The vein-like elements in the structural skin distribute shear stress and pressure on the surface of the object.

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2. Raycounting

This project involves customizing shading structures based on the intensity and orientation of light rays. The main concept or idea is that curved surfaces assemble themselves by assigning parameters of light to flat planes. The principles of geometry are traditionally related to shapes and volumes such as squares and spheres. This process explores the relationship between geometry and 3D modelling software from a computational perspective and analyses the curvature and angles of the shapes. The result is the creation of photo sculptures that are made by projecting photographs of objects onto sheets of wood and then carving and assembling them into 3D sculptures.

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3. Cartesian wax

This is a design for a façade prototype. It is a multi-material and multi-functional structural skin. The surface is made thicker where it is self-loading and thinner where it is transmitting light. The surface consists of tiles and is generated out of a singular 3D milled mould. Each tile was cast at high temperatures which resulted in it deforming the original mould. The temperature modulations resulted in the geometrical and physical property variation in the tiles. This way, each tile is similar in shape but differs in properties such as stiffness and opacity.

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4. Aguahoja 1

This project is a Biopolymer Pavilion. The plastic waste being generated every day – which amounts to 300 million tons each year globally – leaves harmful imprints on the environment. Less than 10% of this material is recycled. This project aims to utilize the natural decaying elements and create functional materials. Organic molecular materials such as cellulose, chitin, and pectin – are decaying elements found in trees, apple skins, and crustaceans. These can form structural elements that have similar properties as the conventional human-made materials, but these will not have a harmful environmental impact. The project envisions a future where we can reduce industrial waste by using abundant natural materials that are sustainable and biodegradable. We can derive materials from natural and healthy ecosystems and integrate them into human designs. The products of this project were sourced from organic materials, 3D printed by robots, and assembled by water. The chitin, pectin, and cellulose are converted into sustainable hydrogels that can be 3D printed into objects that can be used for applications that are small and large scale. Standing five meters tall, Aguahoja 1 is an architectural pavilion made from 5740 fallen leaves, 6500 apple skins, and 3135 shrimp shells.

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5. Silk pavilion 

This project is probably Neri’s most renowned one which put the rest of her work on the global map. This project explores the relationship between digital and biological construction. It involved developing a pavilion mould and letting numerous silkworms weave across the framework. The framework itself was a three-meter wide dome. Over 6500 silkworms formed the weave design over three weeks. Each silkworm spun a single silk thread filament that was about 1km long. Traditionally, silk is harvested by boiling the silkworm larvae in their cocoons to extract the thread. This project aimed to go in the opposite direction, by letting the silkworms live and metamorphosis, thereby proving that we can co-exist with nature without having to destroy it. The base structure of the pavilion was made of 26 polygonal panels made from silk threads laid with the help of a Computer-Numerically Controlled (CNC) machine. Then the 6500 silkworms were placed at the bottom rim of the framework, where they began weaving silk patches.

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6. Glass 1

This is a project that explores glass column prototypes. Glass is a structurally sound material that plays a significant role in architectural design. Glass can be molded, blown, formed, plated, and stacked, and combined. The way the glass is tempered or formed results in the appropriate properties of the glass structure.

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7. Glass 2

In this project, the results of the preceding Glass 1 project were used to create 10-foot glass columns. The initial installation consisted of 3mm glass columns manufactured with the 3D printing platform. The 10 foot high columns have constantly changing surfaces which result in continuous branching of loads. The geometrical complexity and dynamic optical properties make the columns act as architecturally scaled glass lenses that disperse and concentrate light from inside and outside the glass surface.

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Neri Oxman’s work and projects continue to grow towards a sustainable and environmentally friendly future. Combining biology and innovative technology, her visions are very unique and modern. She is conceptualizing at least a decade in the future, where she envisions that humans and nature can co-exist and build an abundant, technologically advanced, and ecologically sound world.

Sanika Bondre
Author

Sanika Bondre is an aspiring architect and artist. She is also good with words and hopes to combine her profession and hobby into a new passion. She is always reading about sustainable methods in the field of architecture. In her spare time, she loves reading, sketching and looking at photos of dogs.

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