design | May 14, 2013

Print The Future: Design Speaker Neri Oxman on the Cover of ICON Magazine

"If nature is sustainable and beautiful, how can we make things that are sustainable and beautiful?" That's the question design speaker Neri Oxman asks when she embarks on her breakthrough fabrication projects. Oxman, who was recently profiled on the cover of ICON magazine, is an award-winning designer who runs the Mediated Matter research group at MIT. Oxman and her team work on revolutionary "products and processes [that integrate] environmentally aware, computational, form-generation processes and digital fabrication," ICON writes. Her fabrications attempt to replicate the way objects in nature grow and adapt to their surroundings. Spiders, for example, have a major influence on Oxman's work. She's inspired by the way they can alter the thread they spin to accommodate a multitude of different needs. Can we make buildings that breathe? Print clothing that contorts and conforms to our bodies like a second skin? Could we eventually use 3D technology to print DNA and create a synthetic human skin? These ideas exist in nature, and Oxman is working toward allowing humans the ability to artificially craft products that change and evolve to fit different needs.

At the heart of her revelatory design aesthetic is the 3D printer, but she doesn't view this tool as simply a means to create static, three dimensional objects. Rather, she wants to fabricate objects that replicate the adaptability and evolutionary characteristics inherent in the plant and animal kingdoms. She is quick to point out, however, that simply because these ideas exist in the world of artificial design, doesn't mean that craftsmanship isn't still a vital part of the process. "Digital craft," Oxman tells ICON, "beyond its traditional description or meaning…and may be reinterpreted as a set of instructions combining knowledge and application, matter and tools…Today, rapid prototyping technologies offer this knowledge to the people. But there’s obviously more to the notion of rapid craft than hitting the 'on' button. Therein lies the art."

In her keynotes, Oxman expands on her forward-thinking design aesthetic. She explains her vision of creating designs that fuse seamlessly with the natural environment around them—acting in tandem with, not against, the natural world. She is working to provide sustainable solutions to some of the most complex issues facing society today. And, in her jaw-dropping presentations, she shows us how her intriguing designs can merge nature and technology to create a happier, healthier, future for us all.