Bricks, mortar, steel, carbon fibers, plastic. They’ve left marks on our planet—crushing impacts that Neri Oxman says we must design our way out of, if we’re to survive. It is possible, believes the award-winning designer and biosciences pioneer, who is renowned for transcending the boundaries between art, science and environmentalism.
In Netflix’s highly anticipated second season of Abstract: The Art of Design, Oxman shares how nature-inspired design can literally reshape the physical world and the trajectory of our future — if we have the confidence to push against the grain.
Oxman, director of MIT Media Lab’s Mediated Matter group, thrives on the avant garde. Equal parts scientific and artistic rigor, her vision is both mind blowing and breathtaking in practice: from a silk pavilion (a suspended dome of silk fibers spun by a robotic arm, completed by 6,500 live silkworms), to an artificial apiary (a year-round urban home to millions of bees, and the first demonstration of sustainable life in a completely synthetic environment). Her next challenge? Applying her research to an architectural scale in the form of 3D printed glass.
“In the future, we will not build our products and our architecture; rather we will grow them,” Oxman predicts. “But it will take a village, not a lab.”
Oxman, though, is doing her part to build both. Her 2015 TED Talk, “Design at the Intersection of Technology and Biology,” has been viewed more than 2.3 million times. Last year, she won one of Cooper Hewitt’s National Design Awards. In October of this year, she received the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s Contemporary Vision Award. And in 2020, she’ll have an exhibition dedicated to her work at MoMA in New York City.Extracting ourselves from the looming environmental catastrophe will take not just hard work and sacrifice but, crucially, imagination. In an era when delay can mean devastation, creative minds like Neri Oxman’s could save our world.