SAN FRANCISCO, CA (November 19, 2021)—What does it mean to build, house, inform and inspire sustainable ways of living in the 21st century? American Israeli architect and founder of the New York-based practice, OXMAN, Neri Oxman questions the materials, tools and methods of architecture as we know it today. In the exclusive exhibition Nature × Humanity: Oxman Architects, on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) from February 19–May 15, 2022, nearly 40 profound artworks and installations rethink how we build and design with one essential objective: to transition from a focus on human material wealth to a focus on environmental health.
“While human material wealth stakes claim to land and resources, environmental health restores and advances natural balance to mutually benefit all. OXMAN’s radical perspective lies in its ability to envision an alternative architectural legacy upending a human-centered built environment to reprioritize nature,” said Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher, SFMOMA’s Helen Hilton Raiser Curator of Architecture and Design. “By evoking questions rather than posing solutions, Nature × Humanity: Oxman Architects offers visitors opportunities for bold imagination, robust discussion and informed action.”
Bringing together knowledge, principles and tools from four disciplines—art, architecture and design, engineering and science—the exhibition spans Oxman’s career from 2007 to the present. With never-before-seen large-scale projects such as the Gemini Cinema and Biodiversity Pavilion models, the rarely seen Aguahoja pavilions and Vespers masks and the ongoing urban studies project Man-Nahāta, among others, the presentation celebrates Oxman’s pioneering approach, including interdisciplinary collaborations that resonate with nature, not against it, and inspires new ways of thinking about the world around us.
Questioning environmentally detrimental construction and fabrication processes, Oxman founded and led The Mediated Matter Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 2010 to 2021. Her team’s research included the development of alternative building materials that could decompose when no longer needed, as well as permanent materials that could augment functionality. One project hypothesizes that embedding living substances in inorganic materials could allow structures to perform in response to shifting environmental conditions. Totems explores whether melanin, a naturally occurring pigment, can be added to a transparent building material to provide shade when the sun is brightest, and fade back to transparent when the sun sets. Applying this research at the architectural scale, the Biodiversity Pavilion for Table Mountain National Park in Cape Town, South Africa is a design for a pavilion made of such responsive material, reducing the need for additional cladding.
The Wanderers series is a collection of wearables for outer space. Each piece is a vessel for living organisms, designed to meet the user’s needs by responding to extreme environmental conditions on specific planets, such as 200-degree temperature fluctuations, high meteor activity, or changes from extreme brightness to darkness that affect visibility.
The Vespers masks consider different ways we can remember those who have passed, from mapping their external features to capturing their final breath and retaining it as a dynamic visualization of that person. These designs invite viewers to embrace alternative methods for honoring the deceased while having minimal impact on the Earth, using 21st century knowledge and technology.
Considering nature as its primary client, OXMAN applies design to enhance the well-being of Earth and its diverse inhabitants. The Aguahoja pavilions—one in newborn, pristine condition at the entrance to the exhibition and one undergoing programmed decomposition on the outdoor terrace of SFMOMA’s Floor 4—uses the discarded shells of ocean crustaceans, fallen leaves and apple skins as building materials that can decay naturally when no longer needed and thereby enrich the soil with nutrients for new growth.
Scaling up further, Man-Nahāta proposes an urban landscape that questions the current state of conflicting ecosystems where Manhattan’s developed land meets surrounding sea water. Delving into the island’s history and how people have lived there—from its first inhabitants, the Lenape people, to European settlers, to the present day—OXMAN examines its current precarious state, subject to rising tides and heat hazards from climate change, and re-envisions an urban design which reestablishes a healthy ecosystem and restores a balance between nature and humanity.
Neri Oxman (born 1976, Haifa, Israel; based in New York, U.S.) is the founder and CEO of OXMAN, a design practice based in New York City. Until recently, she was a tenured professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she founded and directed The Mediated Matter Group, a lab that conducted research at the intersection of computational design, digital fabrication, materials science and synthetic biology. At MIT, Oxman pioneered the field of Material Ecology, which studies relationships and interactions between designed objects and structures and their environs. Unlike the ecology-agnostic Industrial Revolution, this new approach tightly links the process and products of design to the natural environment. Areas of application include architecture, product design and biotechnology, as well as the design of new tools for digital fabrication and construction.
Since 2005, Oxman and her team have won numerous awards and have rapidly grown in international scope and acclaim. Among Oxman’s many awards are the Silicon Valley Forum Visionary Award (2017), London Design Innovation Medal (2018), Cooper Hewitt’s National Design Award (2018) and SFMOMA’s Contemporary Vision Award (2019), as well as an Honorary Fellowship from the Royal Institute of British Architects (2019). Oxman received her PhD in Design Computation as a Presidential Fellow at MIT. Prior to that, she earned an AA diploma from the Architectural Association in London after graduating from the Technion Israel Institute of Technology (with Honors) and attending the Hadassah Medical School at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Artist Talk: Neri Oxman
Wednesday, February 16, 2022, 7 p.m., Herbst Theater
In partnership with the Long Now Foundation, SFMOMA will co-present an evening conversation with architect, designer and inventor Neri Oxman. Working at the intersection of technology and biology, Oxman is calling for a fundamental shift in the way the built environment is designed and constructed for better alignment with principles of ecological sustainability. She is founder and CEO of OXMAN, a design practice uniting science and engineering, art and design, and history and culture to propose new materials and manufacturing processes. Drawing upon both the ancient past and the distant future, Oxman is advancing a new architecture designed with nature and humanity in balance.
Tickets available through the Long Now Foundation in early January
General admission tickets: $25
SFMOMA member tickets: $12.50
For more information about member tickets contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 415.357.4135.
Generous support for Nature × Humanity: Oxman Architects is provided by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts and The Sanger Family Architecture and Design Exhibition Fund.
SFMOMA offers the following holiday hours:
Thu, November 25: Closed
Tue–Wed, Dec 21–22: 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Thu, Dec 23: 1–8 p.m.
Fri–Sat, Dec 24–25: Closed
Sun–Tue, Dec 26–28: 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Wed, Dec 29: Closed
Thu, Dec 30: 1–8 p.m.
Fri, Dec 31: 10 a.m.–3 p.m.
Sat–Sun, Jan 1–2: 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Our permanent collection on Floor 2 (Open Ended: Painting and Sculpture 1900 to Now) will be free for all visitors from December 20 to December 23, 2021.
To curtail the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, SFMOMA has embraced a heightened focus on visitor and staff health and safety by implementing many new precautionary measures. SFMOMA requires masks for all visitors and staff, provides hourly sanitation of public areas and requires social distance throughout the museum. These measures and others ensure SFMOMA is a safe space for its community and staff. Learn more about our guidelines.
151 Third Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is one of the largest museums of modern and contemporary art in the United States and a thriving cultural center for the Bay Area. Our remarkable collection of painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, design and media arts is housed in an LEED Gold-certified building designed by the global architects Snøhetta and Mario Botta. In addition to our seven gallery floors, SFMOMA offers 45,000 square feet of free, art-filled public space open to all.
Visit sfmoma.org or call 415.357.4000 for more information.
** Follow us on Twitter for updates and announcements: @SFMOMA_Press