Neri Oxman and MIT have developed programmable water-based biocomposites for digital design and fabrication. Named Aguahoja, the project has exhibited both a pavilion and a series of artifacts constructed from molecular components found in tree branches, insect exoskeletons, and our own bones. It uses natural ecosystems as inspiration for a material production process that produces no waste. “Derived from organic matter, printed by a robot, and shaped by water, this work points toward a future where the grown and the made unite.”
Using a design approach that facilitates a tight integration between material creation and robotic fabrication, the project allows for the creation of objects across a range of scales. It examines the importance of water in Nature’s systems, the cycles of birth, adaptation and decay allowing ecosystems to re-use materials again and again. By using old growth forests and coral reefs as inspiration, where waste is virtually non-existent, the design team compared this to the waste production rates of our building industries, where objects have an expiry date and materials are extracted from the earth faster than they can be replenished.
The biocomposites used by Aguahoja are composed of the most widely-found materials of our planet-- cellulose, chitosan, and pectin. These are then digitally fabricated to create materials with specific properties that can change in response to heat and humidity. In death, these materials dissociate in water, eliminating the production of waste and fuelling new life.
From the architects: The Aguahoja Pavilion - Continued research on the application of environmentally responsive biocomposites has led to the first architectural-scale iteration the Aguahoja series. Standing five meters tall, the structure’s skin is composed of a flexible biocomposite with functionally graded mechanical, chemical, and optical properties. The robotic deposition of cellulose and chitosan allows for the creation of a generative surface pattern that alters the stiffness and color of panels in response to environmental parameters such as heat and humidity. When exposed to rain, this biocomposite skin degrades programmatically, restoring its constituent building blocks to their natural ecosystem, thereby; continuing; the; natural; resource; cycles; that; enabled; their synthesis. Even small alterations to the molecular composition of biocomposites can have a dramatic impact on their appearance and behavior. The Aguahoja Artifacts represent years of exploration into parameterizing material chemistry in order to develop a library of functional biocomposites. The pieces in this collection are diverse in their appearance, yet they are all composed of the same components; chitosan, cellulose, pectin, and water.
The Aguahoja Artifacts - The array of forms and behaviors exhibited by these pieces reflects the manner in which they are expressed in nature, where a material such as chitin can compose both the exoskeletons of crustaceans and the cell walls of fungi. In contrast to steel and concrete, the composites formed by these materials are in constant dialogue with their environment. Some artifacts exhibit dramatic changes in conformation in response to humidity and heat, while others darken or lighten as the seasons change. Some are brittle and transparent with a glassy texture while others remain flexible and tough like leather. Despite their emergent diversity, these artifacts share a common quality - in life their properties are mediated by humidity; in death they dissociate in water and return to the ecosystem.
Project Team Members: Jorge Duro-Royo, Laia Mogas-Soldevilla, Daniel Lizardo, Joshua Van Zak, Yen-Ju (Tim) Tai, Andrea Ling, Christoph Bader, Nic Hogan, Barrak Darweesh, Sunanda Sharma, James Weaver, and Neri Oxman
Undergraduate Researchers: Matthew Bradford, Loewen Cavill, Emily Ryeom, Aury Hay, Yi Gong, Brian Huang, and Joseph Faraguna
Special Thanks: The MIT Media Lab, The TBA-21 Academy (Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary), GETTYLAB, and the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, and the Autodesk BUILD Space
Collaborators: Zijay Tang, Prof. Tim Lu and the Lu Lab based at the Research Laboratory of Electronics at MIT, and Shaymus Hudson
News via: MIT Media Lab.