Environment Robotics
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Aguahoja – Programmable Water-based Biocomposites for Digital Design and Fabrication

Created by the team at the Mediated Matter Group at MIT Media Lab, Aguahoja I is project/installation that is digitally designed and robotically manufactured out of the most abundant materials on our planet—the very materials found in trees, insect exoskeletons, apples and bones. Cellulose, chitosan, pectin and calcium carbonate are combined and compounded with high spatial resolution over material tunability producing biodegradable composites with mechanical, chemical and optical functional properties across length scales ranging from millimeters to meters. These water shaped skin-like structures (‘hojas’) are designed and manufactured as if they were grown: no assembly is required.

Standing five meters tall, the Aguahoja I pavilion is composed of biocomposites constructed with varying degrees of stiffness, flexibility and opacity acting as façade or ‘structural skin’ manufactured without components the surface area of which is limited only by the robotic gantry—a continuous construction modeled after human skin—with regions that serve as structure, window, and environmental filter. At the end of its life cycle, when no longer useful, the structure can be programmed to degrade in water (e.g. the rain!), thereby restoring its constituent building blocks to their natural ecosystem, augmenting the natural resource cycles that enabled its creation. This level of ‘environmental programming’ can in the future enable the construction of structures that modify their properties relative to the season: even small alterations to the molecular composition of biocomposites can have a dramatic impact on their design and their decay.

The project represent 6 years of exploration for Neri Oxman and the team into computationally ‘grown’ and robotically manufactured biocompatible material composites that together make up a ‘library’ of functional biopolymers. The artifacts in this collection are diverse in their appearance and structural make up and environmental behavior; yet they are all composed from the same components: chitosan, cellulose, pectin, and water.

The process is comprised of a robotic gantry for 3D printing biomaterials where shape and material composition are directly informed by physical properties (e.g., stiffness and opacity), environmental conditions (e.g., load, temperature, and relative humidity), fabrication constraints (e.g., degrees-of-freedom, arm speed, and nozzle pressure), etc. Entitled Water-based Digital Fabrication the platform fosters tight integration between form, function and fabrication at scales that approach and often match the biological world.

Aguahoja I includes three artifacts: an architectural pavilion, a library of material experiments, and a set of associated hardware/software and wetware enabling technologies developed by The Mediated Matter Group. The Aguahoja I pavilion and associated artifacts were completed and exhibited at the MIT Media Lab Lobby in February of 2018 prior to being acquired for SFMOMA’s permanent collection (Collection SFMOMA, Gift of the Artist.) A second pavilion and associated artifacts, currently in development —Aguahoja II—will be debuted as part of “Nature: Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial,” co-organized by the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and Cube Design Museum in Kerkrade, Netherlands. On view May 10, 2019 through Jan. 20, 2020, Aguahoja II will revisit the design issues in the context of Material Ecology, the Group’s design approach and philosophy.

For more information on the project, please see links below.

Project Page | Mediated Matter Group | MIT Media Lab


The Mediated Matter Group: Jorge Duro-Royo, Joshua Van Zak, Yen-Ju (Tim) Tai, Andrea Ling, Nic Hogan, Barrak Darweesh, Laia Mogas-Soldevilla, Daniel Lizardo, Christoph Bader, João Costa, Sunanda Sharma, James Weaver and Prof. Neri Oxman (Aguahoja I). Nic Hogan, Joshua Van Zak, Ramon Elias Weber, Joseph Henry Kennedy, Jorge Duro-Royo, Christoph Bader, João Costa, Sunanda Sharma, James Weaver and Prof. Neri Oxman (Aguahoja II).

Research Collaborators: Joseph Faraguna, Matthew Bradford, Loewen Cavill, Emily Ryeom, Aury Hay, Yi Gong, Brian Huang, Tzu-Chieh Tang, Shaymus Hudson, Prof. Pam Silver, Prof. Tim Lu // Substructure Production: Stratasys Ltd, Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, // Music Composition: Jeremy Flower and Video Production: The Mediated Matter Group, Paula Aguilera, Jonathan Williams

Acknowledgements: MIT Media Lab, NOE. LLC, Stratasys Ltd, MIT Research Laboratory of Electronics, Wyss Institute at Harvard, Department of Systems Biology at Harvard, GETTYLAB, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Autodesk BUILD Space, TBA-21 Academy, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, National Academy of Sciences, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Esquel Group.

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