Templating Design for Biology and Biology for Design

Neri Oxman


The complex relationship between biology and technology has for centuries constructed our view of Nature. It has also limited our ability as designers to integrate external environmental forces with the inherent material behavior of buildings and products. However, while the biological world expresses functionality from the bottom up - through self-organization, cell differentiation, growth, remodeling and regeneration - the practice of design traditionally operates from the top down, establishing constraints that inform or guide form generation and construction. Neri Oxman, Associate Professor and head of the Mediated Matter Group at the MIT Media Lab, introduces how new advances in additive manufacturing coupled with emerging capabilities in materials science and synthetic biology are today empowering designers to combine top-down design procedures with bottom-up digital or physical growth across spatial and temporal scales.

Guest edited by Achim Menges

From the website: A new understanding of the material in architecture is fast emerging. Designers are no longer conceiving of the digital realm as separate from the physical world. Instead computation is being regarded as the key interface for material exploration and vice versa. This represents a significant perceptual shift in which the materiality of architecture is no longer seen to be a fixed property and passive receptor of form, but is transformed into an active generator of design and an adaptive agent of architectural performance. In stark contrast to previous linear and mechanistic modes of fabrication and construction, materialisation is now beginning to coexist with design as explorative robotic processes. This represents a radical departure from both the trite modernist emphasis on 'truth to materials' and the dismissal of materials by the previous generation of digital architects. The issue features designers, researchers and thinkers that are at the forefront of exploring new modes of material enquiry and its deep interrelationship with technology, biology and culture. Through their work, which unfolds from multifaceted alliances between the fields of design, engineering and natural sciences, it seeks to trace the emergence of a novel material culture in architecture. Architectural and engineering contributors include: Sean Ahlquist, Martin Bechthold, Philippe Block, Karola Dierichs, Jan Knippers, Achim Menges, Neri Oxman, Steffen Reichert and Tobias Schwinn. Scientific and philosophical perspectives provided by: Mario Carpo, Manuel De Landa, Neil Gershenfeld and Thomas Speck. Features the design research of: Harvard's Material Processes and Systems Group, MIT's Mediated Matter Group.

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