Q&A: Neri Oxman Sees Buildings of the Future as Being Designed More Like Organisms Than Machines

Q&A: Neri Oxman Sees Buildings of the Future as Being Designed More Like Organisms Than Machines

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By Kelly Vencill Sanchez
A conversation with architect, artist, and MIT Media Lab professor Neri Oxman.

The Industrial Revolution heralded a new paradigm: "the World as Machine." Material Ecology pioneer Neri Oxman proposes a model for the Digital Age: "the World as Organism." This view aims to impart "a living quality" to the built environment, she explains. The resulting creations could be buildings made of a single surface material that can integrate multiple functions—"not unlike the human skin, which serves at once as both a barrier and a filter," she says. But it is also the process of design that thrills and inspires the 42-year-old architect and artist, who studied medicine in Jerusalem and architecture in London before earning her PhD in design computation at MIT, where she heads the interdisciplinary Mediated Matter research group. "Design is bigger than ‘form follows function.’ It can lead to technological and even scientific progress," she says. "A good designer can, by virtue of design—both the noun and the verb—not only solve problems, but also seek them out, long before they emerge."

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