Translational Design Computation

Christoph Bader. Thesis: S.M., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, School of Architecture and Planning, Program in Media Arts and Sciences, 2017


This thesis introduces, demonstrates and implements translational design computation: a theoretical approach and technical framework for mediating living and nonliving matter through design computation. I propose that computational design can act as a "language" for the enablement of design at the intersection of the material and the biological domains. I support and validate this proposition by formulating, deploying and evaluating a triad of strategies as follows: (1) Programmable Matter-utilizing computational design in combination with synthetic material systems to enable biologically inspired and informed design; (2) Programmable Templating-utilizing computational design in combination with, and at the intersection of, synthetic and biological systems in order to facilitate their synergetic relationships; and (3) Programmable Growth-utilizing computational design in combination with biological systems to grow material architectures. Each of these design strategies is demonstrated through specific design challenges. For Programmable Matter; a data-driven material modeling method that allows to reinterpret visual complexities found in nature is presented and subsequently extended to a design framework for the 3D printing of functionally graded structures. For Programmable Templating; a design approach for creating a macrofluidic habitat, exploring phototrophic and heterotrophic bacterial augmentation templated by continuous opacity gradients, is presented. Following, spatio-temporal templating of engineered microorganisms via 3D printed diffusion gradients is investigated. Finally, for Programmable Growth; a framework is proposed with the objective of importing computer-aided design capabilities to biology. Enforcing the design-centric approach, a design collection called Vespers-a reinterpretation of the practice of the ancient death mask-is presented and discussed in the context of the introduced concepts. Thesis contributions are not limited to innovations in computational design and digital fabrication but also to materials engineering and biology by proposing new ecological perspectives on and for design.

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