design | December 14, 2010

A Materials Girl: Neri Oxman is Redesigning the Modern World

Neri Oxman is one of the coolest people I know. Everyone that I explain her work to responds in the same way: with follow-up Web browsing to learn all they can about the woman who designed a chair that moves with your body weight! That chair — called Beast (photo below), a stunning mix of Eamesian utility, technological sophistication, and fine art aesthetics — draws its inspiration from the internal structure of bones and other biological forms. It’s a great example of biomimicry, in which designers look to the natural world for practical solutions. And it’s a good starting point from which to enter Neri’s growing body of work. A young polymath and professor at MIT’s Media Lab, Neri willfully ignores the boundaries between art, materials science, biology, computer engineering, materials science, and eco-activism. What I like about her work is that it challenges us to look, with fresh eyes, at every aspect of our material world. Specifically, at how we can redesign everyday objects of every scale — a chair, a wall, a building — to be functional, sustainable, gorgeous, and even “intelligent.”

On top of all this, Neri’s just a nice person, extremely gracious, which is worth mentioning. She’s also an accomplished speaker. But don’t take it from me. Here’s a testimonial from her recent keynote at Bucknell University:

She hit a grand slam: classroom session was excellent, dinner delightful, and her presentation a wallop—students stood in line for about a half hour afterward to ask her questions. Fascinatingly, the questions were more about their lives and careers than about her work, as if by her own passion for her work she had inspired them to seek her advice on where they should take their interests and find, in essence, what she had found. She is brilliant. We had about 200-225 people there for her presentation on election night [2010 midterms], which was excellent, and she did not leave anyone anything but wowed. Several students told me it was the best presentation they had heard in the entire forum series, and I have heard from several faculty since that their students who were there have been raving about it.

Up Next

neuroscience | December 13, 2010