The Mediated Matter Group led by designer Neri Oxman at MIT is behind some of the most compelling and boundary-pushing projects we’ve seen that combine 3D printing and architecture or design. From a novel glass 3D printing technique, to a water-based digital fabrication method, to the haunting Vespers mask series, the Massachusetts-based design group never fails to disappoint.
Some of the team’s most recent projects, including Totem and Aguahoja, showcase the Mediated Matter Group’s uncanny ability to produce poignant and nature-inspired (and often nature-derived) structures. Both projects, it has been revealed, relied in part on support from Stratasys’ 3D printing technologies.
Mediated Matter’s Totem project was conceived of for the Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival exhibit, curated by Paola Antonelli for the XXII Triennale di Milano in Italy. The exhibition at large explores the notions of “respectful,” “restorative,” and “reclaimed” design, emphasizing the relationship and tension between what is built and what is grown.
Within the exhibit, Totem explores the designers’ ability to chemically synthesize melanin (“the pigment of life”), both in a literal and metaphorical way. The piece itself is—in the simplest terms—a glass-like structure that has been infused with melanin. More precisely, it demonstrates melanin production on an architectural scale for deployment in specific environmental contexts.
Though Totem’s wispy structure conveys natural movement and flow, it actually required careful designing and production. That is, the melanin in the piece is actually contained within complex, vessel-like structures which were produced using 3D printing and a transparent digital material from Stratasys.
Because of the complexity of the channel networks, the 3D printing process had to be slightly customized, using an advanced liquid support material to make the build possible. Once the entire structure was 3D printed, the liquid support material was washed away, resulting in the transparent, hollow structure. According to Stratasys, the technique used was the first of its kind.
“One of the key criteria for Totem was the need to securely contain the melanogenic structure without compromising the ability to flawlessly promote every level of visual detail,” explained Neri Oxman. “As a result, we used an advanced transparent 3D printing material that can simulate the clarity of glass, enabling a clear visualization of the internal components and features.”
Totem, which is on display in Milan until September 1, 2019, includes multiple types of melanin, including the replication of a natual melanogenic process that can be seen in person and biological synthesis or extraction processes performed at the Mediated Matter lab.
Aguahoja, for its part (which we covered in more depth here), consists of two installations created using the lab’s water-based digital fabrication method: Aguahoja I and Aguahoja II, each of which comprises various 3D printed artefacts. The impressive pieces are made almost entirely from organic materials which have been shaped and formed by water. Developed in commemoration of the UN’s World Water Day, Aguahoja demonstrates the ability to create structures from tunable biopolymer composites.
Aguahoja I consists of three artefacts, including a five-meter-tall spinal structure made up of 95 individually 3D printed parts. Parts of the structure, including a series of custom fixtures that hold the individual components together, were 3D printed by Stratasys Direct Manufacturing using the F900 3D printer. These crucial elements were printed from ASA, which offered the necessary strength and robustness as well as aesthetic qualities for the job.
“The support from Stratasys to the Aguahoja project offered my team and I the unique capability to design complex shapes that ensure the structure’s geometric stability, while also faithfully upholding the organic integrity that is central to the project’s theme,” said Oxman. “The ability to quickly iterate the design throughout the project using 3D printing enabled us to optimize the structure and aesthetics of the pavilion in a way not possible with traditional techniques.”
Aguahoja II, a second pavilion produced using the tunable biopolymer composites and the Mediated Matter Group’s water-based digital fabrication process, was recently unveiled at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and was produced in cooperation with the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and Cube Design Museum in Kerkrade, Netherlands.