10 March 2020

Neri Oxman. Material Ecology

Israeli-born, 44-years-old, architect, computational designer and artist: this, in the smallest possible nutshell, is Neri Oxman. A professor at the MIT Media Lab in Boston and founder of the Mediated Matter Group, she has founded a new discipline known as material ecology, which interconnects technologically advanced computational design, synthetic biology and digital fabrication (alias 3D printing) to produce compostable structures, glass objects capable of changing their appearance and structural properties and clothes made from a single piece of silk material. MoMA is holding a large exhibition dedicated to Oxman and her natural, sustainable, futuristic and visionary projects. On until 25th May, it has been curated by the great Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator for Architecture and Design at MoMA.

Neri Oxman. Material Ecology explores that particular intersection of biology, engineering, materials science and computer science that is beginning to rewrite the practice of design and architecture. Unlike others, however, Oxman has already gone far: she doesn’t just rethink materials, objects, buildings and construction processes in an entirely different way, but puts together entirely different species and disciplines to progress her own particular concept of material ecology. Thus, while each individual research project in the exhibition is groundbreaking in its own way, as a whole they constitute a new philosophy of designing and making – of unmaking even – the world around us which could, one day, be available to all architects and all designers. Oxman explores the possibility of literally making her materials grow in a laboratory, shaping their natural evolution according to particular design methods. This holistic and cross-species approach sees organisms tailored to take on specific forms, functions and characteristics, a more advanced level of organic design that does not merely imitate nature, but engineers it according to specific parameters.

It was Paola Antonelli’s decision not to show works that were finished products (such as chairs, wearable accessories or buildings) but objects that actually embodied the process by which they were made, “not produced” or “produced through process.” The general public is invited to look at Design not as a discipline that makes the world “better looking,” but as a practice that questions our relationship with the physical world and its impacts on our environment.

On show, seven key experiments, which include Agualoja, a biomaterial derived from the shells of crustaceans and leaves that could enable us to get rid of plastic and which can be 3D printed to make objects, and Silk Pavilion II, a site-specific version of a geodetic dome, created from thousands of silkworms spinning as guided by a rotating mandrel.

An exhibition well worth seeing because it’s experimental, organic, visionary, generous and full of hope, just like its inspirer, Neri Oxman.

Neri Oxman. Material Ecology

22nd February – 25th May 2020
MoMA, Museum of Modern Art
New York


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