Will architects one day grow buildings like trees? This is the sort of provoking idea that Neri Oxman has been considering as she explores the notion of “material ecology.”
From MIT Spectrum:
“What is important to me is the design approach, and how we translate principles from the natural to the synthetic world,” she says. The idea of material ecology is to computationally program properties at the macro and micro scale, designing material systems and structures to serve multiple purposes, as they do in nature.
Design is moving into a new “age of biology” — and MIT is leading the way, says Oxman, who founded and heads the Mediated Matter Group at the Media Lab and is the Sony Corporation Career Development Professor of Media Arts and Sciences. “The Media Lab was founded on the ideal of the designer as an experimentalist,” she says. “I can’t think of another place on earth that would support, promote, engage, and encourage the experimental spirit of design and design technology [to the same degree].”
Oxman creates prototype materials and objects using a digital 3-D printing technique of her own invention — variable property printing. Among her explorations are the creation of a therapeutic glove, which provides custom support to individuals with carpal tunnel syndrome by distributing hard and soft materials to suit the patient’s needs and anatomy; a prototype building “skin” that supports structural load; and the well-known work Beast, a reinvention of the chaise longue that provides form-hugging support for the human body.