Neri Oxman, a designer and PhD candidate in Design and Computation at M.I.T.'s Media Lab, is proving that the design of the natural world is based, not around form in total, but rather a series of processes and relationships that result in form. Challenging the notion of "form follows function", Oxman would see the traditional process of design, where a form is created and then analyzed against it's task, inverted. In this way, design begins with analysis and form is generated through the findings.
The bulk of her examples are extracted from nature and highlight the incredible ways that the natural world responds to it's own environment and complications. Citing the 1905 discovery by Julius Wolfe that bones grow stronger and increase calcification when put under weight, Oxman argues that bone is doing design and execution at the same time. As it responds to the new requirements of it's existence, the bone adapts and changes in space and over time. This is a critical point in her research and defines the future of design. How is it possible to create forms that follow the examples set by nature and react in time and space to the localised needs of not just the environment and the user, but also by the form itself?
In her project Beast, a chaise, Oxman has developed a process that is a fully customizable chair capable of structurally supporting itself and the user while cradling specific pressure points. The chaise is also a direct vision into its function, as the darker spots indicate a thicker, more structural point whereas the lighter shades are areas that need less support. The project is a result of her studies at the M.I.T. Media Lab into a procedure called the variable printing process. With this process, a form is printed in three-dimensional space after analysis and the solidity or structural capability of each point in space is "printed" at optimal density or capacity. The result could be a future where entire buildings are printed in space and structural faculties are optimized at an atomic level.
Neri Oxman's blog MaterialEcology.
Ethan Zuckerman's blog post on Oxman's presentation at 09 Pop!Tech Conference via World Changing.