Technology meets design: the 5 coolest takeaways from MoMA’s Paola Antonelli’s #SXSW keynote

The first keynote speech from SXSW 2015 saw MoMA’s Senior Curator of Architecture and Design, Paola Antonelli, talking about the ways in which design and science can bridge the gaps between our understanding of digital and physical technologies.

Antonelli likened the discipline of urban gymnastics called parkour, to how we should think about exploring the space between design and technology. “Some of the most interesting bridges between biology and design are happening now. The design of living entities is actually coming to be.” She referenced collaboration as playing an important role in this sort of facilitation at the museum. “Creating bridges with other disciplines and having a literacy of that [is important], as is bringing in people that are diverse to create that.”

Acting as an apt beginning to a week of higher creative thinking and kicking off the interactive portion of the festival, here are five of the coolest technologies and design innovations mentioned by the curator:

The 4D Printed Dress
Kinematics is a 4D printed dress from Nervous System design studio. It is the first clothing item to be printed as a single folded piece. Using a complex manufacturing process the dress combines the disciplines of design, physics simulation and digital fabric. The studio created the dress using 2,279 triangular panels connected with 3,316 hinges to fit into a smaller form for an innovatively efficient production process.

A Mushroom Fungus Tower
Next up was the creation of living mycelium bricks made from mushroom fungus by start-up Evocative Design. The use of this biomaterial is created from agricultural waste as an environmentally friendly insulation material. Architect David Benjamin also used the material in an experimental tower structure at MoMA last year.

Honey Bees That Detect Cancer
The third technology mentioned is one of the most mind-blowing: a device that uses the olfactory senses of honey bees. The bees can recognise airborne molecules at the parts per trillion scale, to sense conditions such as lung, skin and pancreatic cancer and tuberculosis. Created by Susana Soares the device involves bees that have been trained in as quickly as 10 minutes using Pavlov’s reflex to detect smells from human breath.

A Silkworm Created Pavilion
Further exploring the relationship between digital and biological fabrication is Neri Oxman’s silk pavilion, a structure created using the help of 6,500 silkworms. To create the pavilion, Oxman studied and distilled algorithms from the silk worms’ patterns as they move to create a structure. This was applied to the structure’s foundations to optimise the silkworms’ ‘biological printing’, if you will.

SILK PAVILION from Mediated Matter Group on Vimeo.

A Living Stem Cell Jacket
Finally, Antonelli touched on a project that MoMA did with Australian company SymbioticA to create victimless leather. The company created and grew a small coat out of connective tissue from mice in addition to human bone cells. Biocompatible polymers were used to mold the torso shape for the coat. Interestingly at one point the coat grew too big, so Antonelli had to deprive it of nourishment to force it to shrink.

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