Neri Oxman is an American-Israeli architect, designer, and professor who currently serves as the Sony Corporation Career Development Professor and Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media Lab. She founded and directs the 'Mediated Matter' research group. Her projects are characterized by combining "computational design, digital fabrication, materials science and synthetic biology", and span across disciplines, media and scales. She is credited for coining the term "material ecology" which "considers computation, fabrication, and the material itself as inseparable dimensions of design." She has pioneered the new field creating products and buildings that are "biologically informed and digitally engineered by, with and for, Nature". Some of her most notable creations include the 'Silk Pavilion', 'Imaginary Beings', 'Ocean Pavilion', 'Gemini', 'Synthetic Apiary' and the 'Wanderers' collection. Her team developed 'G3DP', the first 3D printer capable of printing transparent glass. For her innovative contributions to the field of architecture, she has been honored with several awards over the years, including 'Vilcek Prize' and 'Earth Award'. She has also featured on the covers of magazines like 'Fast Company', 'Wired UK', 'ICON', and 'Surface'.
Childhood & Early Life
Neri Oxman was born in 1976 in Haifa, Israel to Robert Oxman and Rivka Oxman. Both his parents are architects. She spent most of her childhood alternating between her grandmother's garden and her parent's architectural studio, thus learning a balance between nature and culture.
She relocated to Jerusalem and entered Hebrew University's Hadassah Medical School in 1997. Two years later, she decided to take up an architecture course at Technion – Israel Institute of Technology.
She next entered London Architectural Association School of Architecture from where she completed her master’s degree in 2004 with a thesis on using "structural, spatial and environmental" cues to drive shape generation. Moving to Boston in 2005, she joined the PhD program in architecture at MIT under adviser William J. Mitchell and wrote a thesis on material-aware design.
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Career & Projects
After completing her PhD from MIT, Neri Oxman became an Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media Lab in 2010, and currently also serves as the Sony Corporation Career Development Professor. At MIT, she later founded the Mediated Matter research group, of which she is also the director.
Subsequently, she focused on making use of different 3D printing techniques, often collaborating with printing companies like Stratasys. The Mediated Matter group has designed custom printers including a prototype to build 8-foot tall structures in outdoor spaces with its robotic arm and another to create free-standing objects without support structures.
In 2012, one of her first projects was to 3D-print her first set of body-sized wearable collection titled 'Imaginary Beings', which was inspired by legendary creatures. She then teamed up with fashion designer, Iris van Herpen, and materials engineer, Craig Carter, to 3D-print the multi-color and multi-material dress 'Anthozoa'.
In 2013, she began one of her best known projects, the 'Silk Pavilion', which is a polyhedral nylon-frame dome loosely woven by a robotic arm which was then finished by 6,500 free-ranging silkworms. It was an experiment to identify how silkworms respond to different surfaces and how to encourage them to spin onto an existing structure rather than spinning a cocoon.
Her 2014 installation titled 'Ocean Pavilion' consists of a water-based fabrication platform in which structures were built out of the chitin-like a water-soluble organic fiber chitosan. While the whole structure was made from the same base material, due to variations in how the fibers were deposited, the end-result was a combination of hard and soft structures.
She next built the room-sized installation 'Synthetic Apiary' in 2015 to study the behavior of bees within indoor environment and how they built beehives in and around different structures. For this project, she collaborated with a beekeeping company to explore how biological niches could be integrated into buildings as a way to avoid colony loss.
In 2015, she created the 'Wanderers' collection, 3D-printed wearable skins designed to help humans survive on other planets, in collaboration with Christoph Bader and Dominik Kolb. The one item that got most media attention was the 'Living Mushtari' chest-piece, which consisted of a liquid-filled synthetic digestive tract inhabited by a colony of photosynthetic bacteria and E. Coli.
Her 2015 chaise lounge 'Gemini', which was designed to produce a soothing acoustical environment for the recliner and consisted of a milled wood shell with a 3D-printed surface, was later acquired by SF MoMA. The same year, her team developed 'G3DP', the first 3D printer capable of printing optically transparent glass, which was designed in collaboration with MIT's Glass Lab and the Wyss Institute.
In October 2015, she delivered a TED talk titled 'Design at the Intersection of Technology and Biology' which has been viewed over 162k times on YouTube till date. During the talk, she discussed her vision for material ecology to combine scientific insight to achieve "symbiosis between our bodies, the microorganisms that we inhabit, our products and even our buildings."
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She created a set of 3D-printed feathered, filamented, and textured masks for artist Björk titled 'Rottlace' in 2016, followed by 'Vespers', a collection of 15 death masks inspired by the film 'Alien'. She put on exhibit a set of glass vessels made with 'G3DP' at several museums in June, and designed the 10-foot tall sculpture of light and printed glass 'YET' for the 2017 Milan Design Week.
Among Neri Oxman's vast list of innovative designs, some of the most notable ones include the 'Silk Pavilion' installation, 'Imaginary Beings' collection, 'Ocean Pavilion' installation and the 'Wanderers' collection.
Awards & Achievements
In 2008, Neri Oxman won a 'Graham Foundation Carter Manny Award', the 'International Earth Awards for Future-Crucial Design', and the 'HOLCIM Next Generation award for Sustainable Construction'. That year, she was also named 'Revolutionary Mind' by 'SEED Magazine'.
She won a 'METROPOLIS Next Generation' award and was named one of the 'Best and Brightest' by 'Esquire' magazine in 2009.
She was honored with the 'Vilcek Prize in Design', Carnegie’s 'Pride of America' and 'BSA Women in Design' awards in 2014.
In 2015, she received an 'Emerging Voices' award from the Architectural League of New York and the 'Innovation by Design award' from Fast Company. Recently, she earned the San Jose Forum's 'Visionary Award' in 2017.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 2011, Neri Oxman married Grammy Award-winning Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov who, according to an interview in 'Surface magazine', had "incredible influence" on her work. The couple has since then separated, even though the details about their divorce have not been revealed.
In early April 2018, 'Page Six' reported that she was spending time together with renowned Hollywood actor Brad Pitt after meeting through an architecture project at MIT. They reportedly bonded over their passion for architecture, design and art, even though the source claimed that they were strictly friends at the time.
Following the link-up with Pitt, it was revealed that she was actually dating billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman was happy with her current relationship.
After the death of Zaha Hadid, another pioneering woman in the primarily male-dominated field of architecture, Neri Oxman received numerous messages encouraging her "to move forward with the same thinking and intensity".