Christoph Bader Dissertation Defense

January 27, 2021
2:00pm — 4:00pm ET

Dissertation Title: Translational Design Computation


Synergetic tensions have evolved the dichotomy between the physical and digital design domains into a symbiotic unity. New capabilities in digital fabrication give rise to sophisticated tools of computational design, while new affordances in computational design inspire innovation in digital fabrication. The role of design in this process is that of synthesis through mediation. As designers, we mediate between different principles and fields, and their synergies and conflicts generate new elements of design. The challenge to mediate in a universal language across domains becomes critical as a third domain encompassing biological entities grows more amenable to design. Biological systems offer reproduction, self-organization and growth — among other features and benefits — which in turn enable previously unattainable properties to design systems. At the same time, their own modes of intelligence, expression, and agency demand a promising shift in design thinking.

This thesis hypothesizes that the relations across design domains can be established through translational design computation, which is a framework that uses computational design as a language to mediate between physical, digital, and biological entities. We build this framework in two parts — Systems and Mediations. The first part, Systems, explores whether computational design can serve as a mediating language between the three entities. The second part, Mediations, examines how these mediations can occur.

In Systems, we show that computational design can mediate between living and non-living matter along the spectrum of biomimetic, biointegrated, and biosynthetic systems. As part of this, we demonstrate three systems of computational mediation: (i) programmable matter applies computational design to physical systems to enable biologically inspired design strategies, (ii) programmable templating applies computational design to the intersection of physical and biological systems to facilitate synergistic relationships, and (iii) programmable growth applies computational design to biological systems to give rise to material architectures.

In Mediations, we present dynamic, synergetic, and emergentist strategies for how computational mediations can occur within cocreation systems. The living and non-living parts of any cocreation system may interact to form synergies. Combined, these synergies produce complexes that give rise to new macro-level organizations — products of the synergies of the parts and not simply of the parts themselves. Thus, the mediation between physical, digital, and biological entities needs to address the design of dynamic relations guiding synergetic behaviors, the design of the synergetic behaviors themselves or ultimately, the design of emergent self-expression of the system.

Throughout this thesis, the framework is developed theoretically and applied in practice. It is documented in publications such as Making Data Matter and Hybrid Living Materials and projects such as Wanderers, Living Mushtari, the Vespers Series, Rottlace, Lazarus, Totems, Fiberbots, and Silk Pavilion II.

Committee members: 

Neri Oxman,
Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences
Director of the Mediated Matter Group
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Daniela Rus,
Erna Viterbi Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

James Weaver,
Senior Research Scientist
Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering
Harvard University

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