The generative design by architect Neri Oxman

She is convinced of this: in order to continue living on this planet, it is necessary to make peace with nature, not to use it as a reserve of materials to rob and collect, but to include it in production. Like? By combining material technology, architecturedesign, biology. Neri Oxman is the name behind the new revolution. Born in Haifa in 1976 to an American father and an Israeli mother, both architects, she grew up from an early age immersed in the environment that would later become hers. However, not right away. First, he tried to get away from it by studying medicine. After two years, he changed his mind but did not leave the studies he had acquired until then. And he started experimenting with organic design.

Today, after a bachelor’s degree in Israel, a major in London and a doctorate in Boston, he leads the research group Mediated Matter at MIT, where he imagines and shapes the future of the world. His group includes engineers, biologists, artists, computational experts, designers who often have to invent the tools to bring to life what they imagine they are doing. Materials are grown in the laboratory, which manages their development in accordance with an organized planning. It is no longer design that is inspired by nature, but nature that is organized by design.

It was Neri Oxman who invented the new discipline called “material ecology“. No matter what scale he projects – from the everyday object to the artistic installation to the buildings – each of his works is produced in collaboration with nature. It is necessary to overcome, he says, the mounting methods that are typical of industrial production. Nature can provide us a hand to create materials that self-produce, grow and also are able to repair themselves.As a human body.

His is one hybrid and multidisciplinary approach. Design and architecture do not impose on the environment, but are part of it. The fruits of this philosophy prove it. Starting with the Silk Pavilion, a structure of silk threads created by 6,500 living worms around a 3D-printed model. Through a system of regulating light and temperature, the worms are induced to spin around in some specific areas. The result is not only a deeply poetic structure, but also the ability to imagine a silk production process that does not involve killing the worms.

The Aguahoja project is again based on biological material, especially on chitin produced by butterflies, crabs and other living things. The new building material can grow and then return to the environment, eliminating the impact, instead of being manufactured industrially. The prospects it opens up are enormous. It can replace plastic or be used to erect biodegradable buildings that eventually return to nature, such as pavilions for temporary international fairs or refugee camps.

Among the projects in his group is also the first 3D printer capable of making objects in transparent glass and a kind of “skin” which, by harnessing the power of melanin, is capable of creating a true organic sun filter on a building. Under the sun it darkens and screens, at sunset it becomes transparent again. But with the imagination, Neri Oxman went further and still thought of buildings that can grow by themselves according to a well-thought-out planning and even take care of their maintenance. Using bioresins and bacteria he also envisioned the Wanderers series, clothing designed for interplanetary travel. One of them, a portable structure reminiscent of the human gut, is capable of utilizing photosynthesis and some bacteria to produce sugars capable of supporting humans in life-threatening environments.

Her works have been exhibited all over the world, from the MoMA to the Pompidou Center, but she traces the roots of her imagination to her grandmother, who “cultivated a sense of wonder in me.” That’s where it all comes from, from fantasy. But not without rigor, he says. They have to work together. Neri Oxman has so much imagination that he overflows and the technology is at his service. Between one futuristic project and another, he also found time to collaborate on music and fashion. For Björk, he created a 3D mask with the singer’s features that were able to respond to the movements of her face. While for Iris van Herpen she has created a couture dress printed as a unique piece with a material that is capable of varying density, softness and elasticity. This is how our skin does: it is always one, but it works differently on different parts of the body.

His Ted Talk has millions of views and Neri Oxman in a world of architecture and design is the closest thing to a rock star. Among his works that could have a huge impact on the environment is Synthetic Biary, which studies the behavior of bees in specially created enclosed spaces. Basically a test of how to restore bee colonies if they were to disappear from the natural world, but also a hypothesis of integrating hives into buildings. Once again, man cooperates with nature.

All his work so far has been summarized by a documentary from 2021, which is also a manifesto, Nature x Humanity, the same title of the exhibition dedicated to her by MoMA in San Francisco. The new challenge now is to apply his research to large-scale architecture. “We want to print our houses in 3D,” she says confidently, with what she calls “conscious materials” because they are able to integrate and interact as in a real organism.

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