ArtDesignGenerative DesignWearables

MHOX explores human identity in the digital age with generative design & 3D printed masks

MHOX, a design research group started by Filippo Nassetti and Alessandro Zomparelli, has been pushing the boundaries of technology and wearable design since its founding in 2012. With a continued emphasis on how generative design and 3D printing intersect with the human body, MHOX has created captivating pieces ranging from prosthetics and medical devices to masks and fashion accessories.

In one of the design duo’s most recent projects, the Superabundance Mask, additive manufacturing and generative design are brought together to explore the human body as a “territory” or foundation. The mask, which effectively hides the wearer’s face and features behind a sinewy 3D printed structure, is described by MHOX as “a vision of the human body as substratum for the formation of a fibrous biodigital entity.”

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In creating the mask, the designers looked to body mapping and digital simulation technologies, which informed their own generative design algorithms. As they explain on their website, “the Superabundance fibrous tissue is a morphological system that can be controlled and designed, modulating its aggregate properties, such as extension, continuity, density, orientation, rather than acting locally on the shape of its elements, whose identification is in fact uncertain.”

From the design stage, the mask was brought into physical existence using selective laser sintering (SLS), an additive process known for its high quality finish and design flexibility. The technology, explains Nassetti, “fits the complexity and organic structures of the morphologies we work with.” SLS typically does not require much post-processing, making it ideal for printing structures as intricate as the Superabundance mask.

Masks in themselves have become a significant theme for MHOX’s designers, who see them as an appropriate motif for investigating and questioning how human identity is affected and complicated by technology and an increasingly digital world.

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“As enigmatic and ambiguous objects, masks have always had a strong appeal to us,” Nassetti tells us. “In 2012, when we approached the design of 3D printed customized wearables, we decided to begin with a set of masks [the Collagene masks], as they seemed to combine the potential to demonstrate the design process with a clear, intuitive visual impact.”

He continues: “Our work is a reflection on the evolution of the human body and its prostheses under the influence of technology, and masks work well to discuss related themes, especially the one of identity: human and inhuman, natural and artificial, digital and material. It came quite naturally to us to adopt the mask typology as a catalyst for further experimentation and show pieces.”

The design research group’s other mask projects include its Carapace series, a collection of masks inspired by the microstructure of crustacean and insect exoskeletons and which explore our different senses (seeing & hearing).

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Last year, MHOX also partnered with London-based design practice Shiro Studio and engineering firm Arup to create ENEA, the first fully 3D printed walking stick. Using generative design and ergonomics, MHOX and its partners created a walking stick that goes well beyond function.

That is, not only does the walking stick fulfil and improve upon the functions of a traditional walking stick (its three-axis handle allows the user to easily rest the walking stick vertically, for instance), but the sleek and lightweight ENEA is meant to establish an “emotional connection” between the tool and its user. It is to be “seen as a functional, proud, and contemporary design statement rather than an unavoidable manifestation of [the user’s] physical limitations.”

Whether producing thought-provoking masks or assistive devices, MHOX is continually asking important questions about design, function, technology, and the human form. And, with its cutting-edge generative design tools and 3D printing, it’s putting forth some truly compelling observations.

Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault moved from her home of Montreal, Canada to the Netherlands in 2014 to pursue a master’s degree in Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam. It was during her time in Amsterdam that she became acquainted with 3D printing technology and began writing for a local additive manufacturing news platform. Now based in France, Tess has over two and a half years experience writing, editing and publishing additive manufacturing content with a particular interest in women working within the industry. She is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM industry.

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