Neri Oxman – Mothering Nature

Aguahoja I Project By Oxman and MIT Mediated Matter Lab
Here is the first Neri Oxman’s project that piqued my interest. The front view of “Aguahoja I”, has a small opening designed to enable one person to stand inside it. According to Oxman, it’s made of the planet’s most abundant materials – cellulose, chitosan, and pectin. Photo – Mediated Matter Lab MIT.

Neri Oxman has a very unique look at the world and a multidisciplinary approach to science and design. She piqued my interest when I read about her project “Aguahoja I” that blurs the lines between creativity and science. To illustrate, this artistic sculpture is composed of 3D-printed materials from the organic matter abundantly found in nature. A tremendous amount of scientific research went into its creation. This project examines how even though we consider the materials waste, they can transform the design. Additionally, it offers new biopolymer composites that have tunable mechanical and optical properties. Thus, they respond to their environment in ways that are impossible to achieve with their synthetic counterparts.

Derived from organic matter, printed by a robot , and shaped by water this work points towards a future where the grown and the made unite.

– Mediated Matter Group MIT, lead by Oxman
Mediated Matter Lab and Neri Oxman
Mediated Matter Group and Aguahoja I. Courtesy of Neri Oxman Instagram.

Who is Neri Oxman?

Neri Oxman is an MIT professor, architect, and designer. Her focus is on how architecture and art simultaneously intertwine with biology, design computing, and materials engineering. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Centre Georges Pompidou, the Smithsonian Institution, and many other museums contain permanent collections of Oxman’s work.

Photo by Noah Kalina.

In the end, it’s clear that the incorporation of synthetic biology in product and architectural design will enable the transition from designs that are inspired by nature to designs made with and by nature to, possibly, designing nature herself.

– Neri Oxman

Furthermore, Oxman collaborated with talented fashion designer Iris Van Herpen on her otherworldly 3D-printed dress. Another notable collaboration includes working with Bjork on custom 3D-printed feathered, filamented, and textured masks. Previously I had the good fortune of seeing Van Herpen’s 3D-printed dresses in the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. Iris Van Herpen redefines what the future of fashion could be whereas Neri Oxman redefines what the future of science could be.

Neri Oxman – Design Philosophy

Since I am an engineer by education, reading about interesting scientific projects with strong architectural or artistic approaches is thrilling. I was in heaven. Each project offers a fascinating perspective while solving complex puzzles.

Per her bio at MIT website, Oxman coined the term and simultaneously pioneered the field of Material Ecology. Material Ecology considers computation, fabrication, and the material itself as inseparable dimensions of the design. In fact, through biology and digital engineering, products and buildings are in construction by, with, and for nature.

In short, per Wikipedia, Neri Oxman describes her work as pursuing “a shift from consuming nature as a geological resource to editing it as a biological one.” This leads to using multi-scale biological shapes and textures for inspiration. Fascinatingly, Oxman includes living elements in her fabrication processes, such as the glowing bacteria in Mushtari and using silkworms to construct the Silk Pavilion.

Above all, per Oxman – connecting more actively science, engineering, and design creates a powerful synergy where the output of each discipline is serving as input for another.

Neri Oxman - MIT Mediated Matter Lab Website Image
A glimpse at marvelous projects regarding Mediated Matter Lab at MTI.

Aside from the project “Aguahoja I,” here are three particularly fascinating projects that I love. If you’re interested in more inspiring work then you must read MIT Mediated Matter Lab’s website.

Neri Oxman – My Favorite Projects

Gemini – an acoustical “Twin Chaise”

The video above gives wonderful insights into the creative process by Neri Oxman. The Gemini Chaise was designed in collaboration with W. Craig Carter, professor at MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

“The chaise is designed to use curved surfaces that tend to reflect the sound inwards. The surface structure scatters the sound and reflects it into the 3D-printed skin that absorbs that sound, and creates a quiet and calm environment.”

– Neri Oxman

Silk Pavilion

The Pavillion is built by 17,532 silkworms. Neri Oxman and Paola Antonelli, senior curator in MoMA’s Department of Architecture and Design, guide the installation of “Silk Pavilion II” in the galleries at The Museum of Modern Art. This is part of the exhibition “Neri Oxman—Material Ecology.”

How might we invent technologies to enable co-design, co-manufacturing and co-habitation across species?

– Oxman

Glass I

Oxman collaborated with her Mediated Matter team and the MIT Media Lab to develop the first 3D printer specifically for optically transparent glass. As a result, the project produced very artistic 3D-printed transparent glass sculptures.

Mediated Matter team developed G3DP. Also known as “Glass I,” this is the first 3D printer for optically transparent glass. At the time, sintering 3D printers could print with glass powder but the results were brittle and opaque. G3DP was designed in collaboration with MIT’s Glass Lab and the Wyss Insitute and emulates traditional glass working processes.

Afterword and Your Thoughts?

With this in mind, dear reader, think about what’s possible. In other words, how we can look at the world in a different way? What can we do to create a science and art-driven future in synchronization with Mother Nature? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Other Recommended Reads

If you love groundbreaking design then you will adore Iris Van Herpen or Buckminster Fuller.


  • Ilmari

    Using new technologies, especially computer-controlled additive manufacturing, enables use of complex natural structures in manufactured objects. Oxman’s concept may enable us to build lighter and stronger. Perhaps in the future, our cars, houses, and aircraft will look more like something that grew by itself than a man-made object.

    • zestandcuriosity (author)

      That would be amazing, wouldn’t it? I love that we have so many possibilities and that whole new world (and the way of thinking) opened to me through her work. There are often many solutions to same same problem and this is definitely an interesting one. Nature is marvelous example and to draw inspiration from her, is amazing.

  • Andrej

    Amazing, I actually discovered Neri and her work at some point last year and was amazed by everything about it and about her. And now I find an article on her on Z&C. 🙂

    • zestandcuriosity (author)

      What a lovely coincidence and so amazing to hear from you Andrej. Somehow I am not surprised that you enjoyed it. Your taste in art is impeccable.

  • Jacquiline

    I’m truly enjoying the design and layout of your site. It’s very easy on the eyes which makes it much more enjoyable for me to come here and visit more often. Fantastic work!

  • Jack

    This was a really wonderful article. Many thanks.

  • Olga

    Life is just that a journey. At times one has to be reminded to enjoy the journey, for it is clouded at times by the difficult road that we have taken. It is the difficult road that not everyone can travel that separates us. However, it is along this difficult path that we meet individuals that share the same desire and drive to accomplish what seems to be unaccomplishable at times. Although, we started this difficult road alone, when we arrived we found that it was a journey shared amongst new-found friends. So proud of you and what you have accomplished, enjoy the journey.

  • Jap

    Brawo tak trzymac. Widac, ze dbasz o merytoryczne wpisy na Twoim blogu.

  • Roy

    Appreciating the time and effort you put into your site and detailed information you present. It’s awesome to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same unwanted rehashed information. Wonderful read!

    • zestandcuriosity (author)

      Thank you, Roy! I go where curiosity takes me and I am so happy to hear that you enjoyed this article. Neri Oxman is an amazing, inspiring human, artist and scientist.

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