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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Sitbon

Neri Oxman - Exploring the Elegance of Nature

Updated: Jan 27, 2020

Neri Oxman

When it comes to inspiring women, it’s hard to top Neri Oxman. A pioneering designer across multiple fields, Oxman is more decorated than a five-star general. Oxman has a natural talent for weaving separate systems and disciplines together into wonderful crafts of artistic and societal merit. Much of her work rides the crest of cutting edge science while drawing inspiration from nature. World-class innovator, MIT professor, TED talk speaker, a friend of Brad Pitt, and once a cover model for Vogue; it’s hard not to be a little bit jealous. 

I first encountered Neri’s work on a trip to my homeland of Israel. I was quickly entranced by her incredible vision of art and her ability to see deep into the natural world. Neri was born in Haifa, and the roots of her genius are easily traced. Her parents are distinguished figures in their fields, both professors in the architectural sphere. Oxman’s childhood home was an elegant space; sleek, modernist, and flowing. Her grandmother, an avid gardener, lived close by and introduced her to the wonders of nature from an early age. 

Haifa itself is an exquisite jewel of the Levant, rolling gently from the foot of the Carmel mountains, down to the azure waters of the Mediteranean Sea. The city boasts stunning buildings, luscious gardens, and a vibrant cosmopolitan atmosphere.

Her life fascinates me. After modelling as a teen, and completing national service in the air force, Oxman went on to study Medicine at the Hebrew University for two years. However, when her grandmother passed away, she realized that she wasn’t fulfilled, and chose instead to pursue a career in design, enrolling in architectural studies at Technion Israel Institute of technology. After finishing her degree on a transfer in London, she was accepted to read her Masters at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She became a Professor at MIT in 2010. 

Oxman’s work has been featured in prestigious galleries the world over, from the Smithsonian to Vienna's Museum of Applied arts. In 2020, she will have an exhibition showcasing some of her work at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Much of Oxman’s work is focused on reconciling the natural ingenuity of nature with very human spaces such as product design, manufacturing, materials science, 3D printing, and architecture. She seeks to “move beyond the way of the machine” and stresses the elegance and flexibility of nature as a way for humans to break down long established dogmas, in order to arrive at a better future. 

Oxman has often used the example of cellulose, the building block for all plant material, as a way to demonstrate the possibility of her intent. A tree trunk and a leaf are two very different items, with very different properties and functions, yet they are both composed almost entirely of cellulose. By using advanced technologies to better understand natural processes and apply them in design, she seeks to break humans away from dogmatic ideas that have dominated thinking for so long.

The results of radical interdisciplinary work can be extremely different. Oxman’s team at MIT were the first manufacturers to create a 3D printed glass, that was both suitable for load-bearing, and completely opaque. She created a wearable digestive system that can convert solar energy into sugar and has potential applications for space travel. She engineered “carpal skin” a glove that is mapped to key areas of a patient's hand, to alleviate carpal tunnel syndrome. She created a synthetic apiary that allows bees to produce honey all year round. The list is seemingly endless, much like her talents.

Neri and her husband, hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, recently gave birth to their first child, a daughter. As her work is so preoccupied with nature and life itself, Neri has said that becoming a mother is something that she would have felt a hypocrite not to experience.

Despite her many gifts and charmed life, Oxman continues to push for change, both through her groundbreaking work, but also by using her profile in the industries she occupies. She has been an outspoken critic against the continued use of plastics, and the reticence of manufacturers to move away from such bio harmful products, called for the need to “radically align our economic models with consumer good.”

Of course, she’s also been leading the design of 3D printed natural compounds that function as plastics, and organically decompose. 


To discover the roots of inspiration of Neri Oxman, join us on one of our exclusive art tours to Haifa, and other locations in Israel.

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