Biophilia now: 10 radical artists and designers inspired by nature

The biosphere for the 1967 World Expo

The German Pavilion by Frei Otto at Expo ’67 World’s Fair in Montreal, Quebec

A rendering of the exterior of Second Home London Fields


Bjork in a Maiko Takeda piece

Jonathan McCabe

Ned Kahn

Hicham Berrada

Luke Jerram

Tomas Saraceno

Tomas Saraceno

Andreas Nicolas Fischer

Neri Oxman

Neri Oxman 

Tomas Libertiny

May 22, 2017

As the plant-filled Second Home London Fields prepares to open, we celebrate by selecting 10 artists and designers who use technology to explore our relationship to nature

Nature and design have long been entwined. From the nano-structure of cells to the swooping shapes of plant-life, visionary architects, artists and engineers have consistently drawn inspiration from the 3-billion-year-old evolutionary cycle to solve design problems. Architecture is a key example of this synthesis, in wildly varied solutions for future-living that harmonise with, rather than exploit, nature.

Buckminster Fuller’s iconic geodesic dome was a direct result of his exploration of nature’s constructing principles, using the spherical form to create lightweight and stable structures. While Fuller’s ideas were first circulated within the radical design circles of the 1950s and 60s, his guiding principles of environmentalism and sustainability resonate more than ever in today’s political - and ecological - climate.

Another architect whose experimental designs fused forms found in nature with man-made materials was Frei Otto, born in Germany in 1925. His ultra-modern and super-light tent-like structures were derived directly from his studies into the natural world, from the strength and beauty of spiders’ webs to the building properties of bamboo. In particular, Otto was inspired by the fantastical forms of soap bubbles, and successfully translated this into a number of his pavilion structures during the 1970s. His membrane structures made early use of computer modelling, a prescient take on the contemporary parametric design process used most notably by the late Zaha Hadid.

Otto’s legacy will be discussed by Jonathan Glancey, former architecture and design editor of The Guardian, on Tuesday 23rd May at the new Second Home London Fields, the co-working space and cultural events venue, which opens officially this summer. Designed by award-winning Spanish architects Estudio Cano Lasso, the space will be filled with natural light and over 1,000 plants, including plant filled light tunnels that connect each floor. POSTmatter is proud to partner with Second Home in celebrating the launch of their new location.

To celebrate the biophilia-themed opening, we select ten of our favourite artists and designers who have been inspired by nature. Each of these creatives’ radical practice uses technology in new and surprising ways to reimagine the fundamental structures that surround us.


1. Patternity

A unique pattern research studio and image archive, London-based Patternity take note of the smaller details that surround us to inspire their work. Founded in 2009 by an art director and a product designer, the duo have worked with everyone from the V&A to Celine. With the Barbican, they have previously explored the tropical plants found in the conservatory of the Brutalist icon to create new designs. As in nature, repetition is key to the cult pattern specialist’s outlook.


2. Maiko Takeda

A milliner and jewellery designer who trained at the Royal College of Art in London, Japanese Maiko Takeda’s powerful and yet fragile creations are influenced by environmental elements such as shadow, wind and gravity. Her ‘Atmospheric Reentry’ collection saw her experiment with glow-in-the-dark pigments to build delicate phosphorescent headpieces entirely by hand. As reminiscent of jellyfish hovering in the deep of the ocean as they are the galaxies of the cosmos, they were quickly snapped up by Bjork, who can be seen wearing a piece from the collection on her latest album cover.


3. Jonathan McCabe

The generative art of Australian Jonathan McCabe delves deep into the theories of natural pattern formation to create mesmerising, psychedelic compositions. Inspired by Alan Turing’s theory of morphology, he takes the biological to the digital and develops algorithms that replicate the random patterns of cells and membranes. The results are spectacular, colour-saturated and more than a little trippy.  


4. Ned Kahn

Northern Californian Kahn has combined science, art and technology for over 20 years, in works that respond to and replicate the forms and forces of nature. Incorporating flowing water, sand and light, he creates complex and continually changing systems that frame and alter our perception of the natural world. From sculpting with fog to choreographing wind turbines, he builds large-scale installations that capture an instinctive, almost childlike, sense of wonder in his audience.


5. Hicham Berrada

Moroccan-born, Paris-based, artist Hicham Berrada experiments with everything from atomic explosions to chemical reactions to build his own fantastical landscapes. In his photographic series ‘Presage’, carefully composed chemical reactions play out within glass jars; these microscopic ‘performances’ are then captured by Berrada in short films and stills. Just as colourful, tense and evolving as any seen upon a stage, each is set in motion by the artist before the molecular process takes control for the final, ever-changing composition.


6. Luke Jerram

Bristol-based Luke Jerram’s colour-blindness has led him to explore the limits of perception, travelling to remote corners of the globe to develop large-scale installations that challenge the boundaries of science, nature and art. In his latest touring project, ‘Museum of the Moon’, a fusion of NASA lunar imagery, moonlight and surround sound composition is focused onto a 7-metre wide ‘moon’, in order to propose newly personal means of experiencing the night sky. 


7. Tomas Saraceno

Saraceno is well-known for his floating sculptures that resemble 3-dimensional spiders’ webs, and his community projects and interactive installations are similarly informed by the worlds of art, architecture, natural sciences, astrophysics and engineering. Aerocene is his latest open-source project, which sets out to create the first sustainable solar-powered flight. His solo show at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris next year is already hotly anticipated, and he is sure to bring his unique perspective on how we experience the environment to newly innovative proposals.


8. Andreas Nicolas Fischer

The natural and the artificial come together in the generative compositions of Andreas Nicolas Fischer. In ‘Schwarm’, the pixels of photographs are reoriented through Fischer’s pre-programmed algorithms, which slowly alter their density and colour. These particles begin to resemble the patterns more often found in nature as they flow and shift across the screen, forming digital ‘organisms’ that can take on the qualities of anything from a flock of birds to a swarm of fish. Strangely hypnotic and utterly compelling, Fischer's computer compositions take on a life of their own. 


9. Neri Oxman

An architect, designer and inventor, Neri Oxman is a pioneer in the realm of bio-informed design, exploring the augmentation of objects and buildings with biological materials that can adapt, respond, and potentially interact with their surroundings. Operating at the intersection of computational design, digital fabrication, materials science and synthetic biology, she has created wearables and products inspired by everything from the human digestive system to the solar system. Her experiments with 3D printing have led to innovations in printing biological matter, seeking solutions within the natural world that guide her unique approach to design.


10. Tomas Libertiny

You would think that Dutch Libertiny, who has over 40,000 collaborators working on each of his installations, would need a seriously large studio. Except that these assistants happen to be bees, who Libertiny lets swarm over carefully constructed, vase-shaped beeswax frames to form sculptural objects that are as abstract as they are organic, and very beautiful. Exploring the relationship between nature and technology, the results are conceptual and question the construction and value of structures that can be inherited directly from nature itself.



Luxury after the apocalypse
Next up in our series with WeTransfer is artist Jonathan Monaghan, who filters visions of a dystopian future through surreal reconstructions of today's luxury spaces
Spaces for Innovation
A break down of the complexities of designing working environments for future-focussed organisations with analysis of the intricate relationships between innovation, creativity, workplace strategy and people-centred design.
Minimal maps
Sam Jacob, co-founder and former director of globally acclaimed FAT Architecture, traces an unusual path across Britain's roads
Serpentine Pavilion App
Interact with 2016's Serpentine Pavillon, designed by architectural firm BIG, in this sample app from Studio Clam.
POST-Venice: The Latvian and Nordic Pavilions
We explore new architectural forms in two site-specific installations, next up in our essential Venice selection
Deconstructing Disciplinary Architecture
In two solo exhibitions, artist Kapwani Kiwanga takes apart the structure of the powers that govern our public space. From hospitals to back alleys, how are modes of control built into the architectures that we inhabit?
S.T.A.T.E.: Collapsing time and space
Games and diagrams sketch distorted reflections of our own reality in Viktor Timofeev's Drawing Room exhibition.
This artist is drawing the internet
Peter Jellitsch maps the ebbs and flow of the data clouds taken from his online browsing habits in his latest project ‘Data Drawings’
Owen Hatherley and Douglas Murphy In Conversation
In conjunction with Felicity Hammond's solo show at the Space In Between gallery, Owen Hatherley and Douglas Murphy discuss ideas around architecture, cyber space and the abandonment of the utopian city.
Dance x Digital Arts | Performance Interactions Lecture Series
PIxLS is the inaugural public lecture of Bartlett's new master programme: M.Arch Design for Performance & Interaction. The event will explore the intersection between dance, art & technology with talks from digital artists Memo Akten, Mária Júdová & Andrej Boleslavsky, choreographer Patricia Okenwa and architect and graduate of Bartlett’s Interactive Architecture Lab Syuko Kato.