Neri Oxman: Architectural Advancements

September 23, 2011

If I were asked to describe what I love most about architecture, I would have to respond with that there are no limits. Designers push past the limits, creating new boundaries all of the time.

Off the top of my head I could give you a list of hugely successful and entirely different architectural approaches to design, including homes that are one with nature like FallingWater by Frank Lloyd Wright, buildings that stand alone, completely isolated from their environment, like the Seagram Building by Mies van der Rohe, historical buildings that can never lose their significance, like the Roman Coliseum or futuristic, technologically advanced designs that are currently writing their own pages in history, like the Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art.

The list is endless and ever-growing, and where the future of architecture lies is up to each new generation to decide.

A forerunner to the contest of new conceptual designs in architecture is Neri Oxman. She is a 35-year-old, Israeli-born architect that is currently the Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media Lab where she directs the Mediated Matter research group.

Oxman’s group explores how digital design and fabrication technologies can work and change through matter and the environment to radically transform the design and construction of objects, buildings and systems.

“Oxman’s goal is to enhance the relationship between the built and the natural environments by employing design principles inspired by nature and implementing them in the invention of digital design technologies.”

Oxman received her Ph.D. in design computation from MIT where she developed the theory and practice of material-based design computation.

In 2009 she was named to ICON’s list of the “top 20 most influential architects to shape our future.”

Currently Oxman and her team are studying human bone density and its capabilities to add or lose mass as necessary. Examples of this are astronauts lose bone mass while in space and women gain bone mass during pregnancy. She wishes to apply this knowledge to concrete footings and building foundations, where each application only uses the material that is necessary. She states,

“When you construct a building today, the pouring of the concrete is the same, whether it’s a window, a wall, a ceiling or a support beam, regardless of the loads that are meant to be supported. My study suggests possibilities for pouring concrete in an innovative way that conserves materials. Naturally, this has a design significance as well: We are creating a new language that is directly influenced by the behavior of nature.”

Her research is, in the simplest terms, the study of the processes in nature and then the attachment of those processes to designed objects. She deciphers the processes into computer codes, through programs she’s designed to get traceable data that can be applied to different situations.

Some of her creations include:

  • The Beast
  • Carpal Skin
  • Monocoque
  • Armour

The Beast is a chaise lounge that features a unique skin that changes thickness, density, hardness, flexibility and curvature to adjust to the occupying person’s shape.

Carpal Skin is a splint that maps pain and helps alleviate it in carpal tunnel sufferers, designed specifically for each individual.

Monocoque, French for shell, is a building’s ‘skin’ that can be printed to withstand loads that have always been directed to load-bearing building elements away from the exterior facade.

Armour is a bio-inspired armor, shaped and designed for each individual as ultimate protection.

Neri Oxman’s design practice is based on the processes that nature has developed, but used to reach new boundaries not forms, never before discovered. She discusses her techniques,

“It’s all a question of interpretation. Most architects look upon nature as a metaphor and translate it in a very explicit manner. Digital tools allow me to translate natural principles and processes, albeit not necessarily physical forms.”


As Oxman reaches new digital levels of development, it shows that architecture is destined to continue to grow and change as all design industries have and will continue to do so. She stated,

“What guides me is the joy of living, the joy of creating. I know how to celebrate victory and success, but also how to take a risk and fail gloriously.”

Oxman’s words are a final push to keep architects doing what they love and pushing the boundaries to always new, ever-changing realms. The present and the past are there to always remind us and to teach us but the future is ours to shape and then left for every generation after ours. Forward thinking is the only way to advance.

Resources: Neri Oxman, Haaretz, and MIT Media Lab



Jennifer Shockley

Jennifer is originally from Colorado and has recently moved back from Michigan. She is finishing up her Master’s degree in Architecture. She is currently focusing on urban planning and sustainable design and hopes to gain employment at a design firm specializing in these areas. Jennifer also has writing experience serving as an editor for her school newspaper and college magazine. Jennifer has two cats named Prada and Dior-aptly named after her shoe obsession. You can follow Jennifer on twitter @jenshock81.