science | June 06, 2013

A New Era Of Fabrication: Neri Oxman Merges Nature With Technology

Neri Oxman and her team at MIT's Mediated Matter Lab are at it again. A video released this week documents the creation of their latest project: The Silk Pavilion. Inspired by the methods of silk worms, Oxman's Silk Pavilion rests at the intersection of technology and biology. A popular science speaker, she often looks to nature to inspire her forward-thinking design projects. This particular structure was created through a joint venture between over 6,000 silk worms and a CNC (Computer-Numerically Controlled) printing machine.

The project "explores the relationship between digital and biological fabrication on product and architectural scales," Oxman explains. In the video, several polygonal panels are used as a base for the structure. The natural silk-weaving process of the hoard of silk worms acts as a complementary element to the design process; the worms reinforce the gaps in the pavilion's mechanically crafted skeleton. Researching the biological design process employed by the worms led the MIT team to create a computational algorithm that emulated the creatures' behavior. In essence, the Silk Pavilion is a partnership between the silk worms and a computer-aided imitation of their natural design practice.

In the incredible video footage, viewers can watch the structure slowly take shape. It transforms from a transparent, mechanically constructed frame to a dense, finished product in front of your eyes. (To watch the video, view the embedded content above or click here. To see more photos of the Silk Pavillion, go to this link.) In her keynotes, Oxman explains the potential uses for this mode of fabrication. Her work showcases a new era of performance-driven design where the finished product works with—not simply alongside—the natural environment. She makes the case for sustainable, adaptable design that can both solve social and ecological problems via completely redesigning the objects and structures we rely on every day.

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