innovation | December 10, 2012

CNN's Next Big Thing: Neri Oxman's Machines That Design Nature

"I don't want to design a building as I have learned," Neri Oxman tells CNN, "I want to question what it means to design a building." By envisioning a future where we can literally print a building, the award-winning designer is doing just that: disrupting traditional models of creation and innovating for the future. Recently featured on CNN's "The Next List", Oxman explains how her design paradigm takes a "World-as-Organism" approach where the design process, and the products that come out of it, are inspired by nature. The whole is more than the sum of its individual parts in this model—and those parts can also grow and transform in a similar manner as the natural environment. "There is nothing that I consider unachievable or undoable or inconceivable," the Research Group Director at the MIT Media Lab says. Recently named as one of the most creative people in design by Fast Company, Oxman has a very distinct design process. Listed below are the five avant-garde design credos that she employs to create innovative projects that are inspired by—and operate similar to—nature.

1. Growth Over Assembly: "Nature grows things," Oxman explains. As such, her design projects are not put together for a single purpose, but rather, can grow and adapt over time to meet the changing needs of its users and environment.

2. Integration Over Segregation: Instead of creating buildings that require heating and cooling systems to shield the interior from the elements, for example, Oxman suggests creating building skins that contract and expand to respond to the environment around them. Oxman and her team are researching ways to print breathable skins that can act as both a barrier and a filter to the world around it.

3. Heterogeneity Over Homogeneity: While man-made products are predominantly constructed from a single material, things in nature are very heterogeneous and composed of many different materials. Oxman seeks to move objects away from their industrial homogeneity.

4. Difference Over Repetition: In nature, Oxman explains that every cellular unit is unique. By understanding how variation and difference cause repetition in nature, she says you can then learn which elements are repeatable and which are unique.

5. Material Is The New Software: "Our ability to design and fabricate intelligent materials and objects will no longer depend on patching materials with electronics, but rather on our ability to turn material itself into software," she writes. "It inspires us to embed material with distributed intelligence rather than attach it to an on-off switch."

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politics | December 09, 2012