Design at the Intersection of Technology and Biology
Quoting Steve Jobs, “I think the biggest innovations of the twenty-first century will be the intersection of biology and technology. A new era is beginning.”
He has acknowledged the rise of biotechnology as he did with the digital era. In the last years, I believe all innovation has been a product of design at the intersection of art and technology; and now, with the new scientific advances, biology will be added to the equation.
Today, I wanted to bring up this topic sharing with you a short video. It is a TED Talk from one of the people I admire the most in the current scenario of Design, Architecture and Technology research.
She is Neri Oxman, an American-Israeli architect, designer, and professor at the MIT Media Lab, where she leads the Mediated Matter research group. She is known for art and architecture that combine design, biology, computing, and materials engineering.
“She is known for art and architecture that combine design, biology, computing, and materials engineering.”
Her work embodies environmental design and digital morphogenesis, with shapes and properties that are determined by their context. With her team at the MIT she develops material research, believing that in the coming future, architects and designers can bring buildings and product production closer to nature.
For centuries, construction and design have evolved from the very primitive use of products of nature and raw materials, to a sophisticated world where the materials are engineered and produced in factories, and the products of design and architecture have been configured to be assembled for the purpose of optimisation of time, materials and cost.
Buildings and objects are made out of parts.
On the contrary, nature is not assembled or made of parts. Our bodies, and any living being, are composed of tissues that vary its properties adapting to the different internal and external conditions.
Neri and her team at MIT, are researching new materials and techniques that imitate how nature works. Their focus is not on construction or assembly, but on growth.
These bioengineered products are made to adapt to the circumstances they exist in. Factors like heat, pressure, texture and chemical composition are studied, varied and tested until adaptation to medium or purpose is achieved. They are grown, not assembled.
Nowadays, four fields of knowledge are enabling designers, researchers and scientists to introduce these behaviours to current design, which will change the way we use building materials, and finally affect the way buildings are constructed and our cities:
Computational Design: Computers and programming are enabling to the designers control big amount of data and play with complex rules to create more complex organisations and geometries. Also designing responsive architecture to the different external and internal conditions.
Additive manufacturing: In opposition to the traditional process of carving the material to create construction elements that will be assembled, technologies like 3D printing are disrupting the design process allowing designers to rethink the way that parts or even complete buildings are made.
Material engineering: Scientist and designers are now working together to create new materials designed to high-perform in very specific conditions. Materials like graphene, super-plastic, special concrete or composites that will slowly integrate and mingle with the usual suspects, concrete, brick, wood and steel.
Synthetic Biology: Enabling new biological functionalities by editing the DNA of cells.
The study and intersection of these four fields allow not only the creating of complex designs and beautiful shapes, but also living materials that will enable properties and behaviours only designated for the living organisms:
In her own words, we are in the era of Evolution by design.