Can Buildings Grow? Designing for, with, and by nature.

Hassaan Ahmed

A new way of beholding the world is emerging: the World-as-Organism. This nascent model stands in contrast to the First Industrial Revolution and its prevailing paradigm: the World-as-Machine. It strives to impart a living quality into objects, buildings, and cities. Unlike all three previous industrial revolutions—which were indifferent to ecology—this fresh perspective is not only bound to the natural environment, it betters nature at her own game. Inevitably, the World-as-Organism will supersede the World-as-Machine.

So can we grow buildings? I think we can. Neri Oxman and, her group, "Mediated-matter" has evidence. The Digital Construction Environment is the first architectural-scale structure fabricated with the Digital Construction Platform (DCP). Using the Mediated Matter group’s Print-In-Place construction technique, an open-domed structure with a diameter of 14.6 m and a height of 3.7 m was manufactured over a print time of 13.5 hours. The geometry of the test print is a hemi-ellipsoidal dome design, where the wall thickness of the formwork cavity decreases with height. This enables optimized structural use of the cast material while providing maximum internal volume. This test print is the first full-scale validation of the Digital Construction Platform and the Print-In-Place process, demonstrating the DCP's ability to rapidly print large-scale structures, produce complex digitally controlled curvatures, and fabricate on-site. It is among the largest and fastest-produced monolithically fabricated 3D prints ever created.

( Additively manufactured printable wall)

The Mediated Matter group focuses on Nature-inspired design and design-inspired nature. They conduct research at the intersection of computational design, digital fabrication, materials science, and synthetic biology, and apply that knowledge to design across scales—from the microscale to the building scale. They create biologically inspired and engineered design fabrication tools and technologies and structures aiming to enhance the relation between natural and man-made environments. Their research area, entitled Material Ecology, integrates computational form-finding strategies with biologically inspired fabrication. This design approach enables the mediation between objects and environment; between humans and objects; and between humans and environment. Their goal is to enhance the relation between natural and man-made environments by achieving high degrees of design customization and versatility, environmental performance integration, and material efficiency. They seek to establish new forms of design and novel processes of material practice at the intersection of computer science, material engineering, and design and ecology, with broad applications across multiple scales.

(Neri Oxman)

Neri Oxman is the Sony Corporation Career Development Professor and Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media Lab, where she founded and directs the Mediated Matter research group.

(Water based digital fabrication)

The Silk Pavilion explores the relationship between digital and biological fabrication on product and architectural scales. The primary structure was created of 26 polygonal panels made of silk threads laid down by a CNC (Computer-Numerically Controlled) machine. Inspired by the silkworm’s ability to generate a 3D cocoon out of a single multi-property silk thread (1km in length), the overall geometry of the pavilion was created using an algorithm that assigns a single continuous thread across patches providing various degrees of density. Overall density variation was informed by the silkworm itself deployed as a biological printer in the creation of a secondary structure. A swarm of 6,500 silkworms was positioned at the bottom rim of the scaffold spinning flat non-woven silk patches as they locally reinforced the gaps across CNC-deposited silk fibers. Following their pupation stage, the silkworms were removed. The resulting moths can produce 1.5 million eggs with the potential of constructing up to 250 additional pavilions. Affected by spatial and environmental conditions, including geometrical density as well as variation in natural light and heat, the silkworms were found to migrate to darker and denser areas. Desired light effects informed variations in material organization across the surface area of the structure. A season-specific sun path diagram mapping solar trajectories in space dictated the location, size, and density of apertures within the structure in order to lock-in rays of natural light entering the pavilion from south and east elevations. The central oculus is located against the East elevation and may be used as a sun clock. This nature-inspired nature for nature is the essence of biomimicry for nature.

(Silk Pavillion)

In a world where climate change is becoming a real terror but there is almost no action to prevent it by dodgy and even dodgier governments, we should follow suit.

All pictures are credited to Mediated matter.

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About the author: Hassaan Ahmed is a rising junior at LUMS majoring in Physics and Chemistry. Beyond research, he likes to watch current news, all shows of the Paris fashion week, play the violin, listen to classical music, explore food places, and travel.

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