Neri Oxman: Material Ecology

Neri Oxman and The Mediated Matter Group. Totems. 2019. Courtesy Neri Oxman and The Mediated Matter Group

Neri Oxman. Totems 126

Neri Oxman: I believe we are the first architectural studio/research lab to have designed our own bill to wet lab from scratch. You know, I was always adamant about thinking about the architect's toolbox, not as limited by the drafting board or the computer, but as enabled by a wet lab. If an architect operating today, or a designer for that matter, has access to tools that are not only about drawing form but also about forming form, generating form from scratch, literally, then we open the doors for not only constructing things out of already existing materials but literally growing things.

And so the ability to use living cells, whether it is via micro-organisms, bacteria, human or other types of tissues, this allows us to incorporate functionalities that were never before available inside a product or a building. And one example of this is our most recent project where we incorporate melanin, the pigment that we have in our skins that gives us, you know, the color of our skins, incorporating melanin inside glass in order to be able to control or mediate between heat and light and the interior environment. So you literally build a first of its kind biological skin in an architectural facade.

Melanin is considered a biomarker of evolution. It appears in every kingdom of life. In all six kingdoms of life. From bacteria to humans, the plant kingdom, the animal kingdom. So melanin was here 200 and some million years ago before skin color was skin color before humans were on the planet. Melanin was here for since dinosaurs and been known to be one of those elements, one of those pigments without which life on earth cannot sustain itself.

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