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Design Innovation Medal: Neri Oxman


The 2018 Design Innovation Medal, supported by SAP, has been awarded to Neri Oxman. The Design Innovation Medal celebrates entrepreneurship in all its forms, both locally and internationally. It honours an individual for whom design lies at the core of their development and success.

Neri Oxman is an architect, designer, inventor and professor at the MIT Media Lab, where she and her team – an experimental design practice by the name “the mediated matter group”, – operate at the nexus of fields such as generative design, digital fabrication, materials science, synthetic biology and ecology. Her teams’ works include the Silk Pavilion (2013) a biologically augmented bucky dome woven by 6500 free-ranging silkworms on a robotically fabricated silk scaffold, as well as Vespers, a series of 3D-printed death masks augmented with pigment-producing micro-organisms. Both projects explore what it means to design with, by and for nature in the bio-digital age, pointing towards the inevitable unification of “natural” and “artificial”. 

Read our interview with Neri below.

How do you view London as a design capital?

The Architectural Association was all I could have wished for as a student of architecture. The point was to be serious about design and serious about designing. It was there I learned that one must curate one’s life in order to truly create in the world. I cherished plays at The Globe; I relished films in Leicester Square, and sampled every fish & chips joint I could find on South Bank. London, I like to think, is the birthplace of my identity as a designer.

How did your time here shape your approach as a designer?

I arrived in London the year DNA synthesis was made feasible for about $1 per base pair. Digital designers were creating products, garments and buildings that were geometrically complex but materially homogeneous. All else was old-style: material applications, assembly methods and manufacturing traditions.

The disproportionate balance between innovations in fields such as synthetic biology and the virtually primitive state of digital fabrication shaped my fundamental ambition as a designer to move beyond shape into matter, beyond form into formation.

You’ve talked about moving from a built environment towards a grown one. What needs to change in order for this to become a reality?

We need to shift from consuming nature as a geological resource to editing it as a biological one. Over time we will see technologies that focus on the integration of functions rather than discrete applications. Consider, for example, a glass printed structure that functions as structure and solar harnessing skin. The sooner we can adopt this line of thinking, the quicker we will be able to combine programmatic requirements with environmental applications.

Supported by SAP

Header Image:  Qamar, 2014. By Neri Oxman in collaboration The Mediated Matter Group, Christoph Bader and Dominik Kolb,  in collaboration with STRATASYS. The Sixth Element Collection by Stratasys. Photo by Yoram Reshef