“Our research integrates computational form-finding strategies with biologically inspired fabrication“, claims the ‘about’ page of MIT Media Lab’s Mediated Matter Group. Though this may sound like run-of-the-mill architectural boasting, you are unlikely to find any more exemplary combination of scientific research, digital design and biomimetic construction than their recently completed Silk Pavilion.
Inspired by the way silkworms weave delicate cocoons from a single strand of silk, the pavilion was created using a base of robot-woven threads wrapping a steel frame, completed by 6,500 live silkworms which were let loose upon this primary structure. Through a combination of careful design of the primary structure and the silkworms’ instinctive preference for darker areas of the pavilion’s surface, the pavilion’s mottled skin finds the mid-point between a scaled-up version of the insects’ own cocoons and a functional space for humans.
The video of the process shows painstaking research into the way silkworms interact with their environment; from testing out different 3D spaces under different ambient conditions, to using minuscule motion tracking equipment to examine the cocoon construction process. These findings then informed the construction of pavilion itself – determining both the path of the CNC machine which wove the panels and the density of the thread which served as the foundation for the silkworms themselves.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the Silk Pavilion is the way it connects the dots between the world of information technology and biology. The research shows how the blind instinct of silkworms is sometimes revealed as almost machine-like: “parallel basic research explored the use of silkworms as entities that can “compute” material organization based on external performance criteria”. This is then mirrored in the use of a CNC machine to construct the 27 panels which make up the primary structure of the pavilion.