Architecture, design, and its rules have outlined a way of thinking over time, which Neri Oxman and her research team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston question from a sustainable perspective.
It all starts from an elementary intuition “In nature there is no separation between design, engineering and production: bone does all of that.” With these words, the Israeli architect speaks of a transversal commitment that looks to biological principles to inaugurate a new season of design research.
In her studio the concepts of assembly line and construction by assembly are abandoned to open up to a production that literally makes materials grow in the laboratory. Here thanks to the modification of certain parameters, nature is engineered and the project becomes a living structure, in contiuunum with the environment that hosts it.
The work by MIT researchers exploits technological innovations in the fields of digital fabrication and materials engineering, together with computational design, which makes it possible to arrive at complex structures starting from simple formulas, and synthetic biology, which acts on DNA to create new biological functions. These are the tools by which the designer imagines and designs buildings that grow like organisms, clothes for interplanetary travel in environments hostile to humans and other ideas that seem to belong to a science fiction future, which is today.
In this future, Material Ecology is a reality and materials such as chitin, naturally produced by shrimp, crabs, butterflies and other organisms replace plastic in visionary projects.
Biodegradable and innovative structures such as the Silk Pavilion, a dome built thanks to the workforce of 6500 silkworms. The animals created the work by naturally following the structure outlined by the computer, with variations in thickness, density and therefore resistance of the material, thanks to the control of light. A new opportunity for production, beyond the futuristic building, which does not imply the killing of worms for the realization of fabrics.
No field remains excluded from the team research that arrives on the runway with the collection Wanderers, An Astrobiological Exploration. Garments are made to allow humans to obtain nutrients from their clothes and live on planets or hostile environments. Like a second skin, the pieces are inspired by the human body and contain cyanobacteria, which turn light into sugar, and Escherichia, which make sugar a biofuel suitable for us.
Bioluminescent organisms, bees, plant and animal structures become structural elements of human productions. In the Neri team, organic design reaches an advanced level, going beyond the imitation of nature to its collaboration, in view of a tomorrow – which is today – that requires sustainable perspectives in a collective effort.
Alongside the new opportunities in the means of production, it is fundamental to accompany a methodological rethinking – affirms Neri Oxman – that sees in the encounter between science, biology, design and art the formula to accelerate the change that our planet demands.
In her essay The Age of Entanglement, the architect outlines Krebs’ Creative Cycle, a process that transforms information into knowledge, utility and behavior. Here science and humanities feed off each other, as nature does.
The MIT team is a testament to how the buildings and products we are used to are not a direct expression of the ferment of contemporary architecture and design.
In this regard, Paola Antonelli, curator of the Department of Architecture and Design at MoMa in New York, sees in Neri Oxman’s work a double value and meaning. Firstly the engineering of nature, which revises the tools and the result of the project, and secondly the arrival at a formal synthesis, with a complete aesthetic profile, capable of representing today’s design opportunities.
Article by Chiara Sabella