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Material Ecology

Neri Oxman grows tools for the future at new MoMA retrospective
A pioneer in materials, objects, and construction, Neri Oxman is showing work from her 20-year career as an architect, designer, and inventor at the Neri Oxman: Material Ecology exhibition currently on view until May 20 at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Curated by Paola Antonelli with help from curatorial assistant Anna Burckhardt, Oxman’s work on display explores the intersection of the science of materials, digital fabrication, and organic design in pieces both extruded from and infused with the wisdom of nature. This is Oxman’s seventh exhibition at MoMA, and Material Ecology is a magnifying glass for the vibrant microstructures that give shape to the world. “My team and I stand in the crossroads, challenging some of the processes that designers face at the intersection of biology and technology, nature and culture,” Oxman said during a media preview of the show on February 20. “There will come a moment where we will find material singularity [a state in which we cannot differentiate between what is man-made and what is grown]—was this made, was this built, or was it grown? And does it matter?” As a professor of media arts and sciences at the MIT Media Lab and founder and director of The Mediated Matter Group, Oxman observes naturally occurring structures, such as birch tree bark and crustacean shells, and routines, such as silkworm behavior, and presses them forward toward innovative building materials. “We envision these different objects that are processes and materials as tools for the future,” Antonelli said. “As tools for architects, designers, artists to make in a different way together with nature.” The exhibition includes demonstrations of what these processes could ultimately lead to one day, with tables arranged to resemble Oxman’s lab, videos displaying the projects’ progressions, and the artifacts themselves. The works are categorized into “Infusions” and “Extrusions”: Infusions Totems is a series of 3D-printed photopolymer resin infused in melanin. The three 5 7/8” x 5 7/8” x 19 5/16” blocks are set within black columns, suggesting a future as a compressive building material. They stand in front of a rendering of an illuminated structure in Cape Town, South Africa, that employs Totems as walls. A collection of contemporary interpretations of ritualistic death masks made from photopolymer, Vespers are infused with natural minerals and bacteria. The 15 futuristic masks range from the size of a human head to nearly twice that and were created with spatial mapping algorithms. Some seem to be almost coral-like metallic kaleidoscopes, while others resemble opals with frozen whisps of color. Imaginary Beings are multicolored photopolymer interpretations of body armor inspired by Luis Borges’s Libro de los seres imaginarios (Book of Imaginary Beings, 1967), which described 120 mythical animals from folklore. The creations range from protective helmets to breastplates resembling crystalline dragonfly wings. Extrusions Glass, pseudo-cylindrical printed structures, were created with The Mediated Matter Group’s 2015 invention G3DP, or Glass 3D Printer. The exhibition includes smaller samples, roughly 8 inches in diameter as shown below, and larger columns of printed glass, reaching almost 10 feet high. As the focal point of the exhibition, Silk Pavilion II is a suspended structure of water-soluble mesh stretched across an aluminum framework covered in silk spun by 17,532 silkworms. The twisted gossamer cylinder stretches almost 20 feet, nearly doubling the size of the Silk Pavilion I dome constructed at the MIT Media Lab in 2013. Through 3-inch-square studies (exhibited beneath the pavilion), Oxman and her team were able to pinpoint the geometrical situations in which silkworms spin flat sheets as opposed to three-dimensional cocoons, enabling the researchers to design a structure that could be spun by the silkworms themselves, rather than a machine that uses the silk. This discovery allowed for a fabrication process that works in harmony with nature rather than in dominance over it. Aguahoja I is a collection of objects printed from biopolymers, including wood-pulp cellulose, apple pectin, calcium carbonate, acetic acid, vegetable glycerin, and chitosan. The installation stretches across the wall of the gallery and consists of a library of fabricated pieces designed to be compatible with nature. The water-based objects are designed to decay over time, serving as a temporary alternative to plastics.
Oxman and her research team at the Mediated Matter Group operate through what they call the Krebs Cycle of Creativity, which is “a framework that considers the domains for art, science, engineering, and design as synergetic forms of thinking and making in which the input from one becomes the output of another,” as defined in the exhibition’s catalog, designed by Irma Boom. “The input for science is information. Science converts information into knowledge. Engineering then takes knowledge and translates it to utility. Design then takes utility and places it in a cultural context,” Oxman explained. “Then art takes all things designed around us in the built environment and questions the perception of the world.” Funded by Allianz, MoMA’s partner for design and innovation, Material Ecology embodies Oxman’s Krebs Cycle with artifacts that are more grown than made, through a process called templating. The researchers and designers at the Mediated Matter Group used environmental, geometrical, chemical, and genetic influences to manipulate materials. “They are singular materials that differentiate their properties locally to accommodate for environmental and structural strengths,” Oxman said. “They are not made of parts. They are wholes that are bigger than the sum of their parts.”
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Abstract Thinking

Netflix's Abstract season two premieres as Neri Oxman weathers Epstein scandal
Netflix’s Abstract: The Art of Design invites audiences to step into the world of design in the broadest sense. The first season of the original docu-series launched in 2017 and explored design as a truly universal concept, delving into the architectural works of Bjarke Ingels, graphic design by Paula Scher, and other profiles covering automotive design, illustration, and photography. Design fanatics now have even more to discover since the release of the series’ second season on September 25. Subjects of the new season include Academy Award-nominated costume designer Ruth E. Carter, artist-architect and climate ambassador Olafur Eliasson, and designer-professor Neri Oxman. The release of Abstract’s new season comes at a time when Oxman, who works in the MIT Media Lab, was found to be involved in a scandal involving institutional funds from Jeffrey Epstein. Earlier this month, The Boston Globe reported that Oxman’s lab at MIT, the Mediated Matter Group, received $125,000 in funding from Epstein in 2015. Joi Ito, the former director of the Media Lab, recently resigned amidst allegations that he attempted to cover up the extent of Epstein’s relationship with the institution. Oxman, who is currently on maternity leave from MIT, has released a statement expressing regret for accepting the funds, acknowledging the fact that MIT required the donation to be kept under wraps “so as to not enhance [Epstein’s] reputation by association with MIT.” In addition, Oxman was also directed to provide Epstein with a 3D-printed marble sculpture in recognition of his contributions to the lab. Known for coining the term “material ecology,” Oxman uses a cross-disciplinary focus in her design work, blending elements of computer science, biology, and material arts. A major exhibition of Oxman’s work will open in February at the revamped Museum of Modern Art in New York. All six episodes of Abstract: The Art of Design’s second season are now streaming on Netflix.
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Uncharted territory

SFMOMA celebrates moon landing with a Far Out space-inspired exhibit

In celebration of the semicentennial of the moon landing,  the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is holding an exhibition on space-related design that promises to be out-of-this-world. Far Out: Suits, Habs, and Labs for Outer Space opened on July 20th, 50 years to the day after Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the lunar surface, and contains a variety of space suits, hypothetical space habitats, and moon-based laboratory designs.

The objects on display range in practicality from the tried-and-true to the downright quixotic. There are NASA spacesuits designed for real-life astronauts, as well as examples of Neri Oxman’s organically-grown, biomimetic work. Working with the Mediated Matter research group at MIT, she created a wearable that uses a photosynthetic membrane to convert sunlight into usable microbial material for its user. While the device has yet to be taken into outer space, its potential implications for the feasibility of long-term space travel earned it a spot in the exhibit.

Much of the work on display at SFMOMA is decidedly architectural. Architectural illustrator Rick Guidice's renderings of his Bernal Spheres and Toroidal Colonies, originally produced for NASA, depict suburban housing developments and agricultural landscapes as they might one day exist in free-floating space colonies. The exhibition also includes Mars Ice House, a collaborative project by Clouds Architecture Office (Clouds AO) and Space Exploration Architecture (SEArch) for NASA’s Centennial Challenge Mars Habitat Competition. In its design for a four-person habitat to be placed on the surface of Mars, the team proposed a 3-D printed structure that would be covered in a layer of ice to shield it from the planet’s harsh weather conditions. Visualizations of the design can be viewed in the exhibit, which will be on display through January 20, 2020.

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Material Ecology

Neri Oxman to get solo show at MoMA
Next year, a solo show on the work of the architect, designer, and inventor Neri Oxman will go on view at the Museum of Modern Art. Neri Oxman: Material Ecology will highlight eight major projects that showcase the evolution of the research and innovative designs Oxman has conducted over the course of her 15-year career.  Curated by Paola Antonelli and Anna Burckhardt, the monographic exhibition will shine a spotlight on the expertise Oxman has harnessed as a professor of media arts and sciences at the MIT Media Lab, and founder of the now well-known Mediated Matter Group, a research organization that fabricates nature-inspired design. One of Oxman’s biggest claims to fame is “material ecology,” a term she coined to describe the work process by which she utilizes computational design, digital fabrication technologies, and material science to produce projects that are “informed by the structural, systemic, and aesthetic wisdom of nature.”  The American-Israel architect’s self-titled MoMA show will be organized around a site-specific work viewable for the first time. Silk Pavilion II harnesses the strength of 6,500 silkworms to fill in gaps left in a 3D-printed cocoon created from an algorithm that produced the structure from a single, continuous thread. Up close, the object resembles an opaque geodesic dome with patches of thread in varying densities.  Aguahoja (2018) will run alongside Silk Pavilion II, which “aims to subvert the industrial cycle of material extraction and obsolescence” by using nature’s abundant biomaterials to create digitally-fabricated structures that are light, flexible, and react to the environment in ways synthetic materials can not. Glass I and II (2015, 2017) will also be displayed along with Totems (2019), a series of columns made from melanin synthesized from mushrooms. A prototype of these was first commissioned for the XXII Triennale de Milano Broken Nature exhibition, also curated by Antonelli. These pieces will feature a range of 3D-printed liquid channels of melanin pigments from different species. Neri Oxman: Material Ecology will be on display at the MoMA from February 22 through May 25, 2020, after the completion of the museum’s high-profile expansion. A video will accompany each of Oxman’s projects to demonstrate the specific science and production processes behind her work.
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Time for Tech

TECH+ Expo returns to New York to talk the business of building
According to Dr. Andrea Chegut, there is a constant tension between securing capital investment and being inventive in the built environment. It’s something that architects have to grapple with as they make design decisions that will please the client and investors, but also adhere to their creative vision. “This tension is happening in your desktops every day,” she told attendees of AN’s third annual TECH+ conference in New York on June 13. Chegut is the cofounder and director of the Real Estate Innovation Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). As the keynote speaker for the tech-focused forum, held in partnership between AN and Microsol Resources, she reminded the architects present that they are inventors and that it’s imperative to stand up for their work because smart design helps make money. Chegut’s role as a financial econometrician is to research technologies that can improve the relationship between investors and designers, advance communication, and turn design features into metrics that investors can feel good about. “Global research and development expenditures are at an all-time high,” she said, “and real estate is shifting towards R&D and scalable business models, too.” Chegut pointed out that last year, global venture investment in technology for the built environment exceeded $20 billion. That’s a major look into the future of the industry, she said. Not only that, but climate change is making the business of building and maintaining buildings even more costly. From 2000 to 2017, the United States spent $2.5 trillion on resiliency planning and recovery efforts, and $117 billion to manage chronic floods. To get ahead of these issues, Chegut believes technology can help architects and real estate stakeholders make smarter decisions about their projects. Think automation, which could transform valuations processes, accounting, and more, or robotics, such as the Mediated Matter group’s FIBERBOTS, a digital fabrication tool that can create sophisticated material architectures. Even as augmented reality advances through the integration of added sensory modalities, it can immerse and nearly alter one’s perception of the built environment. These could make working in the field substantially smoother. It’s not just tech tools still in the research stages that could change the future; there are products that exist now on the commercial market like transparent wood, view glass, as well as digital software such as Humanyze, the WillowTwin, and Skyline AI that are transforming the way architects work. Companies like Envelope City and Katerra are already leading the way in zoning analysis and material manufacturing optimization. Chegut noted that her team, in particular, has been working on a property technology that could benchmark value drivers of design for investors to get behind. Through an experiment they call Wide Data, the MIT Real Estate Innovation Lab created a database with information on all buildings in New York City that was used to determine common themes across award-winning structures, specifically commercial office buildings. They found that access to daylight can lead to a direct 6.6 to 7 percent increase on the cost per square foot of a building in Manhattan if it meets the green standards set up by LEED. In essence, Chegut backed up through economic data that the value of daylight adds to the monetary value of not only a building but a company, too. “Give humans daylight and we’ll make money,” she said. It’s dedicated research to tools like this that make technology so important for the work of an architect. Everything from advances in BIM, Revit, AR, and VR to prefabrication and efficient construction techniques means that the business of building is getting better because of technology. The rest of the day’s events at TECH+ zeroed in on these innovations and how certain companies and architecture firms such as Kaiser Permanente, SOM, GeoSlam, SHoP, and Payette, among others, are doing big things with new tech. Other conversations included the unique integration of gaming technology to help tell stories through design, and the use of specific tools that helped create New York’s newest architectural landmarks: The Shed and Vessel at Hudson Yards.
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Design for Extremes

Milan shows examine design in the face of disaster
The much anticipated Museo del Design Italiano opened its doors to the public in the same week in April as the Salone del Mobile.Milano. Housed in the storied Milan Triennale, this carefully assembled selection of design artifacts is curated by Joseph Grima, who began his tenure as the museum’s first director. This collection, housed in the Italian Design Museum, is a preeminent example, according to the Triennale Foundation’s president Stefano Boeri, of Italy’s rich post-war cultural heritage. Grima’s formula for the permanent exhibition is to parcel the Triennale’s significant archive into limited sets or editions, that he characterizes as “episodes,” with the first episode serving as the premiere event. Episode 1 is a survey of the postwar years between 1948 and 1981 and is housed in the first half of the curved gallery that winds around the ground floor. Each progressive installment will expand deeper into the Triennale’s bowel-like interiors. The ultimate goal for the Design Museum is to expand beyond Giovanni Muzio’s original 1930s architectural masterpiece. The intention, according to Boeri, is for the museum to grow out by dipping below the rear gardens. An international competition for this future wing will soon be in the offing. It should be pointed out, however, that the exhibition on Italian design is concurrent with, if only through a programming coincidence, a major traveling exhibition located on the second floor above: Broken Nature, curated by Paola Antonelli, the highly successful senior curator of architecture and design at MoMA. Subtitled Design Takes on Human Survival (open through September 1, 2019), this detailed survey of critical strategies dealing directly with the plight of the planet and its increasingly fragile ecosystems aims to be the last word on what is possible through human action in the fuzzy realm of the “technosphere,” a term coined by Peter Haff and adopted by Antonelli’s curatorial team. An impressive number of prominent international designers, thinkers, visual artists and craftspeople share the extensive second-floor space in a sprawling display of human invention and earthly ingenuity. The two inadvertently overlapping exhibitions bring up the question of mutual relevancy, precisely because the similarities between these two exhibitions are much more marked than one would first assume. Looking at the two epochs under consideration, one postwar, the other very recent, both shows are reactions to extreme geopolitical contexts. Italy in the immediate postwar period had to overcome severe wartime devastation; while today, we are evidently firsthand witnesses to a ballooning climatic disaster. Why push the comparison? Because Joseph Grima’s vision of the late fifties to the early eighties serendipitously provides us with a collection of object-time-capsules, or packaged narratives, where we come face to face with an Olivetti typewriter, a pair of Moonboots, a miniature Brionvega television set. These items are neatly arranged alongside related prototype wooden models, publications from promotional advertising campaigns, and in some cases original cardboard packaging. True, as Stefano Mirti, the Milanese designer and critic who was one of the earliest to comment on the exhibit over social media, put it, the objects are readied as if for Instagram shots, but Mirti also took great delight in the immediacy and directness with which these objects are allowed to communicate with us. The famed folding clamshell Grillo telephones, designed in 1965 by Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper, are featured. Pick up the phone, try to remember or guess how to use the dial, and you are connected to the designer’s voice responsible for creating the object in front of you. It’s a pretty direct message, with no middleman. Why is everyone still so mesmerized with this by-now relatively familiar collection of top Italian design objects? The something else that characterizes this permanent collection is the inherent irony, cynicism, and deep criticality that underlies almost each and every one of these impressive designs. What could possibly be the reason we are ensnared by Archizoom’s relatively uncomfortable looking Poltrona Mies chair built by Poltronova in 1969 to take just one example? Most of these pieces, developed with sparse financial support from the manufacturers, represent lengthy developments by trial and error, long personal commitments, and rare commercial successes—at least when they first came on the market. A case in point are the colorful names of these creations, Papillon, Rossocactus, Shanghai, CuccioloTrigger of the SpaceVertebraAtollo, etc. The pieces are much more than merely functional objects; they act as totems for a new society. Behind these designs are a nest of ideological structures that reject standardization, often embrace handcrafts and experimental materials, and evidently abandon the strict tenets of modernist rationalism. The pieces are in turn self-ironic, cynically auto destructive, or perversely inefficient. Enzo Mari is the master of this kind of design game, as so many of his pieces in this collection exemplify, like his Box from 1971 for Anonima Castelli, a chair that is its own carrying case, or his Modelli in scala Serie Proposta per autoprogettazione (Scale models for self-design Proposta series), 1973, for Simon International, conceived to empower the user to rethink one’s own domestic environment. The transition from postwar reconstruction to the threat of nuclear annihilation remains all the while a running subtext among these objects. Looking at Broken Nature, one could only hope that there would be an equivalent level of meta-awareness. To be honest, several of the featured designers and creative thinkers in this exhibit do reach these heights, but they are drowned out by the sheer volume of participants. There are the overarching (or overreaching) categories, including “A Changed Climate,” “Complex Environments,” “Made and Unmade,” “More of the Times,” and “Bridges,” and some truly great projects for sure: beginning with the exhibition’s graphic icons, designed by Anna Kulachek. There are many impressive designs, fluent in the parametric, the biomimetic, the diagram, the transgenderative, the playful, but at the end of the day, what can you take away from all these projects, besides a deeply unrequited experience? This is not to slight the many amazing designs featured in Broken Nature, but it calls to question the primary curatorial position, which attempts to be so all-inclusive that there remains little room for personal absorption or reflection on the part of the viewer. There is no way to digest all this comprehensive information into a personal action, or to urge us on as individuals to become more aware or rebellious. The lack of self-reflection, self-criticism, or even some kind of cynical self-abdication leaves the viewer with simply too much useful information to process. Broken Nature is not the only one among these hugely impressive, uber-intelligent, mega-exhibits to come on the circuit in these recent years. But I fear the effects are ultimately counterproductive. In a way, we become frustrated in our attempts to make sense of these works. Go downstairs, to the Museo del Design Italiano, to experience how irony, satire, and self-deprecation draw your curiosity and fuel your imagination. This is what we need more of today.
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Fiber Intake

MIT lab creates sculptural pavilion made with dissolvable panels
Less than 10 percent of the billions of tons of plastic ever produced has been recycled, with much of it winding up in the Earth's oceans where the plastic disrupts ecosystems and releases toxic chemicals. In response, researchers led by Neri Oxman of MIT’s Mediated Matter Group, which focuses on “nature-inspired design and design-inspired nature,” have devised a new materials that they say, in somewhat biblical terms, go “from water to water.” The substances include a structure made of biocomposite skins derived from cellulose, chitosan, and pectin, some of the most abundant biopolymers on earth, in everything from tree branches to insect exoskeletons to common fruits to human bones. The researchers have put these new composites to the test in a 16-foot-tall pavilion named Aguahoja I (literally, water-sheet in Spanish), the culmination of six years of intense research into material science and robotic fabrication. Panels, comprising a top layer of chitosan and cellulose with a bottom layer of apple pectin and chitosan, were 3D-printed in various compositions to affect their rigidity and strength, color and color-changing abilities, transparency, and responses to heat and humidity, as well as their load-bearing abilities. This means, according to the lab, that the materials are functionally "programmable." Because of this variability, a variety of facade or load-bearing structural components can be generated from the same process, and the size is limited only by that of the printer. This “water-based digital fabrication” is intended to create a situation in which form, function, and fabrication are more closely linked, working in a way that mimics how the natural world designs itself; the result is “a continuous construction modeled after human skin—with regions that serve as structure, window, and environmental filter,” said the lab. In a display at the MIT Media Lab, the pavilion was shown along with a library of materials with various colors, shades, and structural properties, and an array of custom hardware, software, and wetware. The pavilion has been acquired by SFMOMA for its permanent collection, and a second version, Aguahoja II, will appear in the Cooper Hewitt’s design triennial, themed “Nature,” which opens next month. When structures made of these materials have run their course, the materials can be dissolved in water, returning natural materials to the environment with relatively little harm or disruption, much like any organic object in a naturally occurring ecosystem that decays and returns to be reused by the life that relies on it. For more on the latest in AEC technology and for information about the upcoming TECH+ conference, visit techplusexpo.com/nyc/.
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Nature, Nurture, Nouveau

The Cooper Hewitt's 2019 Design Triennial will tackle climate change
The Cooper Hewitt’s sixth Design Triennial will look at ways to radically redress the climate crisis. The Manhattan museum has enlisted designers, scientists, environmentalists, and local stakeholders to present over 60 works that tackle how humans can fix their climate mistakes and harmonize with nature. Nature—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial, co-organized by the Cooper Hewitt and Cube design museum in Kerkrade, Netherlands, will put large-scale sculptures, virtual reality installations, extinct scents, and more on display from May 10 through January 20, 2020. “With 2018 the Earth’s fourth-warmest year on record and global carbon emissions at an all-time high, the crisis of human-caused climate change has never been more dire,” said Cooper Hewitt director Caroline Baumann. “Solutions will not emerge without radical new thinking and alliances. Nature brings together some of the most creative and intelligent designers whose works address our complex relationship to nature and its precious resources and advocate for greater empathy for our planet.” Nature is organized in seven categories for understanding how designers can work with, and around, the natural world to benefit both the environment and humanity. "Understand" celebrates the fusion of scientific knowledge with design, and the pursuit of understanding the natural world. In Curiosity Cloud, courtesy of the Vienna-based design studio Mischer’Traxler, patrons can walk through a cloud of light bulbs, each containing a handcrafted model of an insect native to New York City. The models will flutter to life in response to movement. "Simulate" focuses on biomimicry, the borrowing of techniques and structures from nature in architecture and design. In Resurrecting the Sublime, museum-goers can sniff long-extinct flowers, their scents recreated Jurrasic Park–style from DNA extracted from specimens at the Harvard University Herbaria. "Salvage" is less about nature itself and more about how humans can reclaim their waste, making new goods and products from our mountains of garbage. In Shahar Livne’s Metamorphism, the conceptual material designer imagines a future in which ocean-faring plastic is collected and recycled back into a useable product. Livne will also present “Lithoplast," a composite material made from discarded plastics that form the basis of this conceptual economy. In "Facilitate," designers worked with and around the forces of nature and growth. Xu Tiantian, of the Beijing-based DnA_Design and Architecture, will present Bamboo Theater. The theater, set in a remote, rural Chinese village, bends live bamboo to form an outdoor theater and invites villagers to tend to the piece of living infrastructure. "Augment" references nature’s ever-evolving, ever-advancing character, with projects that use science to push the boundaries of the natural world. MIT’s Neri Oxman and the Mediated Matter Group will present Aguahoja, a 3-D-printed pavilion built from a blend of plant cellulose and chitosan (a sugar extracted from invertebrate shells), in the museum’s Great Hall. Aguahoja represents the continued evolution of Oxman’s adaptations of natural materials and patterns with computational design and advanced fabrication. "Remediate" prompted designers and artists to think about how humanity can slow, stop, and even reverse the deleterious impacts of modern society. In Monarch Sanctuary, which comes courtesy of the New York-based Terreform ONE, a section of a monarch butterfly incubator-slash-facade will be on display. The Monarch butterfly population has been ravaged by climate change and habitat loss in recent years, and the full-scale variegated facade mockup will contain live butterflies that will periodically be released to fly around the exhibition space. Finally, "Nurture" asks viewers and designers to reinterpret humanity’s relationship with nature, and to reach a place of respect instead of dismissal. In The Substitute, Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg will confine an artificially intelligent digital recreation of the extinct northern white rhino to one of the museum’s hallways, where it will gradually refine its movement over time to become more lifelike. Ginsberg’s work questions the role that science plays in preservation—researchers are currently working to revive the white rhno through preserved cell cultures and genetic manipulation—at a time when science increasingly usurps the primacy of social awareness in preservation. Nature’s installations won’t be confined to the floors of the Cooper Hewitt; two large-scale, site-specific installations are coming to the Arthur Ross Terrace and Garden. Sam Van Aken’s Tree of 40 Fruit, which grafts 40 different types of stone fruit branches to one monster hybrid tree, will join Ensamble Studio’s 40-foot-long Petrified River, a concrete river that “flows” from a mountain peak and into a flattened, urbanized landscape. To commemorate the triennial, the Cooper Hewitt will also be releasing a 240-page book of essays, renderings, and deep dives into the science behind each installation. Nature: Collaborations in Design: Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial will be available for purchase on May 21.
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Broken Nature

Paola Antonelli's upcoming Milan Triennale urges designers to tackle climate change
Next year’s XXII Triennale di Milano couldn’t come at a better time. Curated by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)’s Paola Antonelli, the exhibition focuses on the one-of-a-kind ways designers are tackling one of the world’s biggest contemporary problems: climate change. Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival introduces the concept of restorative design and analyzes how humans interact with the natural environment. “A healthy concern for the future of our planet and of our species should come as no surprise," said Antonelli in a statement, "and yet the Broken Nature team feels thankful for the eager and consistent restorative design that is at the core of [this event]...It allows us to keep believing in the power of design to help citizens understand complexity, assess risks, adapt behaviors, and demand change.” Running from March 1 to September 1, 2019, the international showcase will bring together thought-provoking commissions from around the world that sit at the intersection of art, industry, and politics. Special projects will be on view by Formafantasma, Sigil Collective, as well as Neri Oxman and the MIT-based Mediated Matter Group, among others. Scientist Stefano Mancuso will present the immersive exhibition, The Nation of Plants, which will explore the role of botany in helping to solve the world’s vast ecological issues.  It was recently announced that Italian architect Stefano Boeri will lead the global event as its new president. He aims to reinstitute the traditional roots of the 85-year-old Milan Triennale as a collaborative design event that centers on modern day issues. The 2016 event, which was the first Triennale held after a 20-year hiatus, didn’t follow the former format that encouraged such widespread cross-disciplinary collaboration. The Architect’s Newspaper spoke with Antonelli about what it means now that the Triennale is back, and why next year’s thematic exhibition is particularly pertinent for cities in Italy and beyond: AN: Broken Nature is a total revamp of the 2016 Milan Triennale. Can you talk about the ways in which the 2019 event will be different? Paola Antonelli: Hopefully it will exist in the same vein of the ones that happened over 20 years ago. The 2016 event was a loose collection of design innovations while the Triennales held before the 21st century very much connected to what was happening in the world. That’s how I think about Broken Nature. We’re creating the opportunity for architects and designers to participate in a dialogue and contribute to the world’s most urgent crisis: the future of the environment. What makes it different is its attempt to connect a network of efforts. Very often you have these events where the curators know each other, but they make something new and original individually. I believe in originality, of course, but I also believe in collaboration. If we’re talking about emergency as the central focus, we might as well join forces. I would like Broken Nature to become not an umbrella, but an embrace for all these efforts, and for curators to complement each others’ efforts. With this theme of climate change and protecting the environment, we have to join forces in order to be taken seriously. What was the inspiration behind giving science as much of a platform as design? PA: I began this exploration 10 years ago with the MoMA exhibition, Design and the Elastic Mind. We put designers and scientists in conversation to discuss recent changes in tech, science, and social habits, and how people can deal with those changes through thoughtful design. The idea for Broken Nature was birthed in 2013 as a proposal for another exhibition at MoMA that didn’t work out. It never left my mind, because soon after that, new solutions and ways to address change emerged out of this growing urgency to save ourselves and the earth from major environmental threats. For the Milan Triennale, we’re not gathering curators to put together new works necessarily. The National Bureau of Expositions will handle organizing the various pavilions by other countries. I am curating part of the exhibition myself, and we’re asking designers worldwide to share projects that they’ve already been working on for some time. We’re looking for eco-visionaries who have already helped start a dialogue on restorative design and how humans can better connect with nature.
 
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What role has public engagement played in the process of putting together this event? PA: We’ve done public symposia on Broken Nature already, which has helped not only spread awareness but organize our ideas and prepare content. Some of our contributors have already written essays about their projects, which we’ll use toward a book later that sums up our learnings. The symposia have also helped us test out a few ideas to see if they will work out on the national stage. What else should we know going into next year’s 7-month-long triennale? PA: Overall, we’re hoping people will be puzzled and inspired by the exhibition, but we do have three main desired outcomes for it. First, we’re doing this not only for the architecture and design community but for the Milanese citizens because we know they’re interested in design. We’re looking to them as the agent of change to exercise pressure on institutions and change behaviors. We hope citizens will come to the show and leave with a short-term sense of what they can do in their everyday lives to be restorative. Second, we want people to leave the building knowing we live in a complex world, so our actions need to be thoughtful as we move forward in interacting with nature. Third, we want people to have a long-term vision. We tend to always think of our children and our children’s children when it comes to caring for the earth. But beyond that into the third generation of humans, it’s hard to psychologically imagine what it will be like. We hope the exhibition will help people put the far-out future into perspective. Leading the curatorial effort alongside Antonelli for XXII Triennale di Milano are Ala Tannir, Laura Maeran, and Azzurra Muzzonigro. Laura Agnesi will act as lead coordinator for the event, while Marco Sammicheli will handle international relations.
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Age of the Machine

Neri Oxman's Fiberbots autonomously build human-scale structures
The MIT-based Mediated Matter Group, founded by architect and designer Neri Oxman, is well known for its groundbreaking explorations at the nexus of 3-D printing, design, and what Oxman refers to as "material ecology," a term that covers projects ranging from a CNC-fabricated scaffold coiled with silk thread produced by 6,500 silkworms to a solid wooden chaise adorned with 3-D printed, multi-colored cells. Now, the group has released footage of their latest project involving a swarm of robots, dubbed Fiberbots, capable of rapidly fabricating freestanding fiber-reinforced tubes. Over the course of 12 hours, the Fiberbots autonomously produced a series of approximately-15-foot fiber structures. The 16 tubes are four inches in diameter, each using an estimated 1.2 miles of fiberglass thread. In total, over 80 miles of fiberglass were spun for the entire installation. “Fibreglass can provide energy-efficient, green, sustainable solutions for building enclosures,” said Neri Oxman in a statement to Dezeen. “It has relatively low embodied energy due to its composition and can be shaped to carry loads in multiple directions.” Mediated Matter Group tested their new device in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in an outdoor environment to gauge the Fiberbot’s durability. The design team fastened a series of external monitors to the robots to allow for a real-time response to external stimuli that adjusted fabrication variables to swings in temperature and or wind speed. The body of each Fiberbot is identical, consisting of electronics and a software drive enclosed in an inflatable silicone membrane. The Fiberbot is topped by a curved robotic arm that continuously wraps a mixture of fiberglass thread and photocurable resin around the existing structure. The materials for the structure are located at the base of the tubular forms and are siphoned upwards towards the robot's nozzle. Each robot navigates the freestanding structure through the compression and inflation of its surrounding silicone membrane. The membrane expands while the robot fabricates a new fiberglass segment, and subsequently retreats within the tube as that segment solidifies. This process follows a pre-programmed trajectory to ensure that none of the tubes inadvertently collide. According to the Architect Magazine, Mediated Matter Group is currently researching how to scale up their technique into full-scale architectural prototypes. However, there are significant hurdles to overcome in developing the fiberglass forms into load-bearing, interlocking frames.
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Caddy Shack Palace

Sightings at the Venice Biennale and news from the UC Berkeley expansion
Eavesdrop from Venice We were wondering if we would see any celebs in Venice this year—perhaps Brad Pitt and Neri Oxman would be strolling the Giardini, or maybe Kanye West would show up at the Arsenale. But instead, AN editors ran into none other than legendary comedian and actor Chevy Chase, who was spending the week at the Biennale. Chase was in town because his old friend, photographer Peter Aaron, was showing a series of pictures about pre-Civil War Syria. Aaron’s wife wasn’t able to make the trip, so Chevy—an old college friend—came with him. The pair was spotted dining with the Architectural League’s Anne Reiselbach at a small osteria in the San Polo neighborhood. What national pavilion at the Venice Biennale seemingly featured more Americans than the U.S. Pavilion? The Dutch! With GSAPP’s curatorial program—including Mark Wasiuta, Felicity Scott, and Dutch Pavilion curator and CCCP grad Marina Otera—talking to themselves and their friends, as well as Beatriz Colomina in bed with other (mostly New York) friends, it seemed more like a U.S. academy than the actual U.S. pavilion. Now that Eva Franch i Gilabert is packing up her paella pans and heading to Brexitland, the Storefront for Art and Architecture needs a new director. It is currently assembling a list of prospective directors from over 100 applicants. A new director will need to be in place by early fall. In the world of architects’ archives, two of the biggest have recently been promised to major collecting organizations, and we will reveal them shortly. Stay tuned. People's Park No More
The University of California, Berkeley recently announced intentions to make good on a 70-year-old plan to convert the university’s People’s Park into a student housing site. The school hopes to replace the notorious park—site of the 1969 “Bloody Thursday” police violence incident—with new student housing structures containing up to 1,000 beds. The move will displace many of the people currently living in and around the park, which officials have likened to a “daytime homeless shelter.” Plans for the site are still in the works, but the university is considering dedicating a portion of the site to supportive housing and social services. The housing is due to be completed by 2022, according to a UC Berkeley spokesperson.
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Cooper Kudos

Weiss/Manfredi, Neri Oxman among winners of 2018 Cooper Hewitt Design Awards
The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum has announced the winners of the 2018 National Design Awards, recognizing ten individuals and firms who have used design to shape the world for the better. This year’s winners include: Lifetime Achievement: Writer, educator, and designer Gail Anderson has taught at the School of Visual Arts in New York for the last 25 years, and is an active partner at the multidisciplinary Anderson Newton Design. Anderson has written or co-authored a total of 14 books on popular culture and design, and formerly served as the senior art director at Rolling Stone. Design Mind: Landscape architect, award-winning author, and Professor of Landscape Architecture and Planning at MIT Anne Whiston Spirn. Spirn was recognized for her longtime advocacy for balancing urbanism with nature, as well as her continued direction of the West Philadelphia Landscape Project. Corporate & Institutional Achievement: Design studio Design for America, which empowers communities to solve local problems through design. Architecture Design: WEISS/MANFREDI was recognized for the way their projects consistently bridge the gap between architecture, art, and the surrounding landscape. The firm’s been on a roll lately, having picked up several cultural commissions and an invite to exhibit at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale. Communication Design: Digital identity and experience firm Civilization was recognized for its ability to create empathetic connections and commitment to working with companies who are advocating for the greater good. Fashion Design: The Los Angeles-based fashion designer Christina Kim was recognized for her use of traditional hand working techniques and sustainable business practices. Interaction Design: Architect and designer Neri Oxman was recognized for her experimental material usage and continual boundary-pushing forms. Oxman leads the Mediated Matter Group at the MIT Media Lab, a group whose work frequently bridges the gap between art and technology; their most recent project, Vespers, is a contemporary reinterpretation of the death mask typology that uses living microorganisms. Interior Design: The Miami-based Oppenheim Architecture + Design was recognized for its sense-invoking interiors that are often inspired by local vernacular. The firm has realized projects all over the world from towers in Dubai to the Williamsburg Hotel in Brooklyn, but like many of the other winners, Oppenheim balances their projects within the surrounding natural environment. Landscape Architecture: Boston-based landscape architecture firm Mikyoung Kim Design was honored for its vast body of public work, much of it focused on improving urban resiliency. The firm has tackled projects large and small around the world, from the Chicago Botanic Garden Learning Campus to the Songdo International Plaza in Incheon, South Korea. Product Design: Minneapolis-based Furniture designer and manufacturer Blu Dot was recognized for its playful and modern stylings (including some less-than-functional objects). The National Design Awards have been recognizing exemplary names in the design world since 2000. Nominees must have seven years of professional experience under their belt, while the lifetime achievement nominees must have at least 20 years of experience. Caroline Baumann, director of Cooper Hewitt, will announce the winner of the Director’s Award at a later date, to be given to an outstanding patron of the design world. This year’s awards ceremony will be accompanied by National Design Week, which will run from October 13 through the 21st.