Postcard From Neri Oxman
Envisioning a natural future for design
In our Postcards From series, we ask future-facing design thinkers to share a brief message about what’s on their minds right now. This time around, we hear from designer, architect, and inventor Neri Oxman.
Known for her groundbreaking multidisciplinary approach, a framework she coined and pioneered called “material ecology,” Oxman’s experimental practice combines computational design, materials science, organic design, and digital fabrication to envision a better future for all—humans, other species, and our planet. Ever inspired by and working hand in hand with nature, Oxman explores new ways of making, new materials, and bold new possibilities for oft-overlooked materials—from investigating bacteria and human breath to sending bees up in space—with a constant eye towards not only innovation but tangibility. As she has said, “I believe in the balance between dreaming and building.”
Read on for Oxman's thoughts on design’s potential to heal the relationship between humans and nature.
Given a choice between protecting Nature and advancing human endeavors, which would you pick? Might the designed constructs that divide us reunite us? Beyond repairing what we have already damaged, can we positively contribute to the advancement of Nature? In partnering with humanity, can (and should) Nature have a virtue beyond her own existence, beyond a “primordial agency” of self-propagation? How might we leverage design to mediate between biology and technology, the lab and the garden, Nature and humanity? In other words, can we choose both, by design?
In a world where human-made materials are biocompatible, designed products are indistinguishable from naturally grown produce. By placing a multiplicity in the form of an “X” between NATURE and HUMANITY, we call for a radical realignment between grown and built environments, with the hope and conviction that humanity has the power not only to restore, recover, and replenish the natural world, but to empower it.
We seek to promote the relationship between Nature and humanity from consumption on the one hand and preservation on the other, to one that embodies complete synergy, acknowledging that the interconnected whole is far more than the sum of its parts. Embracing complexity and diversity across systems and scales in design, we open ourselves to advancing beyond mere maintenance (i.e., conservation) towards the betterment (i.e., augmentation) of Nature.
We call for a shift in how we perceive clientele and commercial viability, turning Nature into a co-client within the design practice [I]. Nature-centric design invites the creation and delivery of design solutions at the service of Nature while advancing humanity [II]. Activist design utilizes technology stakes in urging commissioning corporations to implement Nature-centric values across the design, construction, and manufacturing industries [III].
We foster design practices that prioritize growth over assembly [IV]. System-centric design considers any design construct—wearable, product, or building—a system of quantified interrelations across natural, biological, and digital domains [V]. Platform technologies are the means to position the scientific method and technological innovation as the kernel of the architectural practice, revisiting timeworn typologies [VI].
We prioritize difference over repetition and customization over mass production [VII]. Cross-scale hierarchical design integrates design workflows in which matter is consumed through the ecosystem which sprouted it. [VIII] Programmed decomposition is the framework in which decay is designed by encoding materials to rejoin an ecosystem’s resource cycle to fuel new growth. This in turn empowers ecosystem resource cycles rather than depleting them [IX].
A portion of this text previously appeared in Dezeen’s “Dezeen 15” series.