Towards a Material Ecology

2013  Oxman, N., Proceedings of the 32nd Annual Conference of the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA) ISBN 978-1-62407-267-3 , San Francisco 18-21 October 2012, pp. 19-20


Material Ecology is an emerging field in design denoting informed relations between products, buildings, systems, and their environment (Oxman, 2010). Defined as the study and design of products and processes integrating environmentally aware computational form-generation and digital fabrication, the field operates at the intersection of Biology, Materials Science & Engineering, and Computer Science with emphasis on environmentally informed digital design and fabrication. With the advent of digital fabrication techniques and technologies, digital material representations such as voxels (3-D pixels) and maxels (a portmanteau of the words 'material' and 'voxel') have come to represent material ingredients, for instance in the context of additive manufacturing processes. In other words, designers are now able to compute material properties and behavior built-in to form-generation procedures. Combined with the designer’s capacity to analyze structural and environmental forces, the enabled mediation between matter and the environment through fabrication appears to be as powerful as the ethos of craft itself.  The ability to design, analyze and fabricate using a single material unit implies unity between physical and digital matter, enabling nearly seamless mappings between environmental constraints, fabrication methods and material expression (Oxman, 2010). Such unity - like that found in natural bone, a bird’s nest, a typical African hut and a woven basket - might promote a truly ecological design paradigm, facilitating formal expression constrained by, and supportive of its hosting environment. Ultimately, the faculty to author new forms of expression will depend on the craft triptych (matter, fabrication, environment) and its integration into the design practice as an undifferentiated scheme, able to process matter into shape as informed by the environment. Once achieved, architectural design will have arrived at a new ecology of and for the artificial: a Material Ecology.

See ACADIA 2012 website.

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