Neri Oxman on Abstract

This is the final post in a series where I write about episodes of Netflix’s Abstract that I really enjoyed and think you might, too.

Who is Neri?

Neri Oxman’s background includes education in both architecture and medicine. The New York Times called her the Leonardo da Vinci of today. Netflix titled her episode of Abstract Bio-Architecture though she describes herself as a material ecologist.

Today Neri is a professor at the MIT Media Lab. She and her fellows think about what needs to exist 50 to 100 years from now. They work at the intersection of design, science, and engineering.

Neri’s Creative Process

  • Each project has a library of experiments. A library means you have tried many iterations until you found the right one.
  • As an adult she carries with her the innocence of a three-year-old trying to understand the natural world. Later she says her team is only able to do what they do because they believe in magic; they can suspend disbelief.
  • Neri says, “you have to question yourself in order to create… I can’t design without doubt.” To push past doubt and the status quo, one needs confidence.

What Blew My Mind

  • A limitation of design as it developed during the industrial revolution is that everything is made up of parts. Allowed the assembly line to explode like it did. By contrast in the natural world creation is growth, not assembly.
  • Tells her team, you must think of your project as being able to be in the MOMA and on the cover of Nature. It has to be that good and that magical.
  • Neri and her work seem so futuristic and unbelievable. But there were futuristic and unbelievable creators in the past too. She visits the Glass Flowers during the episode, anatomical models of plants created from glass at the turn of the 20th century.

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