Neri Oxman just can’t help being Neri Oxman. Always on the forefront of the next big thing, she famously revealed a line of runway-ready 3D printed apparel before 3D printing was even a buzzword. Revealed this week, the latest project to come out of Neri’s innovative Mediated Matter program at MIT centers around the intersection of digital and biological fabrication……it doesn’t get any more MIT than that.
“It explores a novel approach to the design and fabrication of silk-based building skins by controlling the mechanical and physical properties of spatial structures inherent in their microstructures using multi-axes fabrication. The method offers construction without assembly such that material properties vary locally to accommodate for structural and environmental requirements. This approach stands in contrast to functional assemblies and kinetically actuated facades which require a great deal of energy to operate, and are typically maintained by global control. Such material architectures could simultaneously bear structural load, change their transparency so as to control light levels within a spatial compartment (building or vehicle), and open and close embedded pores so as to ventilate a space.”
Constructed with 26 polygonal patterns that feature a silk ‘template’ for the worms laid down by a CNC machine, the structure “explores the relationship between digital and biological fabrication on product and architectural scales.” The silkworm’s ability to generate a 3D cocoon was the underlying inspiration for the group, who wanted to explore what could happen if that ability is project to a human (or multi-human for that matter) shelter. To put things into perspective here, a single silkworm is capable of creating it’s own cocoon out of a single silk thread that oftentimes measures over 1KM in length. To find the sweet spot for maximizing their use of silkworms to complete their giant ‘cocoon’, the group of MIT students created an algorithm that assigned a single continuous thread across their initial polygonal structure—which essentially laid the foundation for the silkworms to build upon.
The density variation in the structure came from the silkworms themselves…all 6,500 of them. Placed at the bottom rim of the initial structure, the silkworms made their way up the structure reinforcing the polygonal sections with varying degrees of silk density. The time-lapse sections towards the end of the video are incredible to watch as the somewhat-transparent polygonal sections become more and more dense.
Once the 6,500 silk-laying workers reached their pupation stage, they were removed from the structure. The resulting moths are capable of producing 1.5 million eggs…which if returned to a build environment like the Silk Pavilion would be capable of producing 250 additional structures. Perhaps most impressive however, is that the silk worms are sensitive to sunlight, which results in particular structure pattern:
“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.”
-Mediated Matter, MIT