Currently subject of an exhibition at MoMA, Neri Oxman is an architect, designer and experimental inventor who has pioneered a new way of working in collaboration with nature and biomaterials
Born in Israel and based in Boston, Neri Oxman is an associate professor at the MIT Media Lab. There she founded the Mediated Matter Group, which she conducts research and experimentation across design disciplines with the goal of augmenting the relationship between the natural and built environments.
Her team at the Mediated Matter Group combines digital fabrication and 3D printing, computational design, materials science and synthetic biology, and works on a range of scales from micro to building scale. Oxman’s intention is to find a way of enhancing the relationship between the built, natural and biological environments by using design principles borrowed from nature and implementing them in the invention of innovative design technologies. She has created a new way of working with natural processes, and a new philosophy for designing with organic materials and use of biomimicry.
The fields in which Oxman is employing these new design technologies are architectural design, product design, fashion and digital fabrication and construction. She has worked with 3D printing glass, as well as the manipulation of many natural material processes, including the production of silk and honey.
Oxman has pioneered the field of Material Ecology, which sees computation, fabrication and material as equally important and inseparable dimensions of design. By working in this way, Oxman hopes to create buildings and products that are informed and digitally engineered in close partnership with nature. Her team has worked with materials as seemingly random as moss, mushrooms and apples. Her most recent work investigates the skin pigment melanin as a design material.
Mediated Matter’s work has resulted in the publication of over 100 scientific papers and many patents. Among them was Rottlace, a family of masks for the Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk, inspired by her album Vulnicura. Exploring the theme of self-healing and the idea of expressing the face ‘without skin,’ the resulting masks aim to convey Bjork’s facial structure, connective tissues and muscles and how that conveys her identity.
Rottlace is one of many project where Oxman and the Group have used 3D printing. The Wanderers, a series of wearable objects, wrere created using multi-material 3D printing technology. Working with Will Patrick and Sunanda Sharma, Oxam’s team embedded engineered bacteria into the 3D structures to create wearables that could help sustain life in outer space by, for instance, creating oxygen for breathing or biomass for eating.
Other intergalactic projects include anexploration of how zero gravity might affect the process of silk spinning. The research group discovered that silkworms could sense different layers of gravity, and tested how different species might be impacted by different levels of gravity. Another project looked at how space travel would affect colonies of bees.
Oxman has won many awards, and been featured in numerous publications. The Meditated Matter Group’s work is included in the numerous museum collections, and she is currently the subject of an exhibition at the MoMA as part of its Spring 2020 programme. In 2009, Icon named her as one of the architects who was shaping the modern world and its future.