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Entitled ‘Neri Oxman: Material Ecology,’ this exhibition will highlight seven major projects that showcase the evolution of Neri Oxman’s research and innovative designs. Each project will be displayed alongside videos that highlight the science behind its production process. Further to this, the projects selected for the exhibition will form part of a library of originally conceived materials and processes that will in the future be available to all architects and designers.
Oxman is a professor of media arts and sciences at the MIT Media Lab, where she founded and directs The Mediated Matter Group. She has coined the term 'material ecology' to explain her process of bringing together materials science, digital fabrication technologies, and organic design to produce techniques and objects informed by the structural, systemic, and aesthetic wisdom of nature.
A Preview of the Projects:
The centerpiece of the exhibition is Oxman’s Silk Pavilion II, a site-specific commission on view for the first time at The Museum of Modern Art. Harnessing silkworms’ ability to generate a 3-D cocoon out of a single silk thread, Oxman and her research group created the overall geometry of a geodesic dome by using an algorithm that assigns a single continuous thread across patches providing various degrees of density. A swarm of 6,500 silkworms were positioned at the bottom rim of the robotically manufactured initial structure, composed of non-woven silk patches, and they were tasked with filling the gaps. In essence, through this project, the silkworm shows how it can act not only as construction worker, but as architect.
Other projects in the exhibition include Aguahoja (2018), which deploys some of the most abundant biomaterials on our planet, such as cellulose, chitin, calcium carbonate, cornstarch, and pectin. Derived from shrimp shells and fallen leaves, these materials are 3-D printed by a robot, shaped by water and augmented with natural pigments to create bio-compatible composites with functional mechanical, chemical and optical property gradients. They can be used to digitally produce structures and objects that embody the lightness and flexibility—as well as the biodegradability—of leaves and wings; and the toughness of seashells, varying in size from millimeters to meters.
Also featured in the exhibition are Glass I and II (2015 and 2017) and Totems (2019). Glass I and II are created through a high-fidelity, large-scale, additive manufacturing technology for 3-D printing optically transparent glass structures at architectural dimensions—in essence, a 3-D printer for the type of glass usually employed to harness solar energy.
Totems speculates upon designers’ abilities to chemically synthesize melanin—the pigment of life—and program its interaction across scales and species. The first prototype, commissioned as part of the XXII Triennale di Milano Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival (2019), also curated by Paola Antonelli, demonstrates melanin production at an architectural scale for specific environmental contexts. The research at the core of this work fuses digital fabrication and design computation with chemical reaction dynamics. Each object is designed as a column—a chemical totem—and initiated with tyrosinase, an enzyme from a mushroom whose reaction allows for melanin to be synthesized. A large-scale architectural proposal for an environmentally responsive, melanin-infused glass structure is part of a long-term project initiated by Design Indaba, a yearly design conference in Cape Town, South Africa.