Co-fabrication Systems

Pneuma Web 01
Collboration between 3D printed structural shell and honey bees

Biologically augmented digital fabrication

Research team (Silk I): Markus Kayser, Jared Laucks, Jorge Duro-Royo, Carlos David Gonzalez Uribe, Prof. Neri Oxman

Research team (Silk II): João Costa, Christoph Bader, Sunanda Sharma, Felix Kraemer, Susan Williams, Jean Disset, Nitzan Zilberman. Undergraduate researcher: Sara Wilson. Prof. Neri Oxman

Research Team (Synthetic Apiary): Markus Kayser, Sunanda Sharma, Jorge Duro-Royo, Christoph Bader, Dominik Kolb. Prof. Neri Oxman.

Year: 2013-present

Projects: Silk I, Silk II, Synthetic Apiary


In Nature―where shape is cheaper than material―one often finds load-resisting structures that combine multiple systems to accommodate for constantly shifting forces over time. Contrary to traditional manmade structural design, where beams and columns are often composed of homogeneous materials, many natural structures exhibit heterogeneity in both shape and material composition.

Advances in digital fabrication and robotic manufacturing over the past decade have enabled the rapid production of highly customized structural components, yet structural systems in the natural world remain superior in their performance.

H 0025 Layer 3
Diameter variation study for Silk Pavilion II
H 0009 Layer 19
Twist variation study for Silk Pavilion II
H 0001 Layer 27
Tilt variation study for Silk Pavilion II


These projects apply Mediated Matter’s ongoing research into biologically augmented digital fabrication with silkworms and eusocial insect communities to product, architectural, and possibly urban, scales. Many insect communities present collective behavior known as “swarming,” prioritizing group over individual survival, while constantly working to achieve common goals.

Often, groups of these eusocial organisms leverage collaborative behavior for relatively large-scale construction. For example, ants create extremely complex networks by tunneling, wasps generate intricate paper nests with materials sourced from local areas, and bees deposit wax to build intricate hive structures.

Cofab Combined Cocoons
Three silkworm cocoons sharing one scaffolding
Computational simulations exploring the impact of static, stepped, and continuous motion over silkworm spinning behavior
Experiment on light guided silkworm behavior

Design templating techniques have proven to be an interesting approach to interface with biological organisms. Specifically, our work with silkworms in Silk Pavilion laid the foundation for the novel paradigm of a bio-homeomorphism, which describes continuous deformation and alteration of a structure, topological space, or geometric object by biological agents, such as silkworms.

For example, the fabrication of thread-based membranes and panels is typically constrained by the limitations of the underlying scaffold in which it is constructed. However, bio-homeomorphic structures feature various strategies for conditioning the behavior of the ‘agent’ that will, in its turn, condition the structure.

Silkii Scaffold Template
Silkworm cocoon spun in a template
Silkii Scaffolding Detail
Silk woven between removable scaffolding
Silkii Behavioral Experiments
Height as a template for silk deposition
01 Experiments Robotic Silk Deposition
Robotic deposition of thread in template
Simulation of a machine-guided fabrication process with silkworms


The system and tool offer a novel form of fabricating membranes in a dynamic manner, one that can adapt to different stimuli from the environment or other additional agents. They can be seen as a step towards an ideal adaptable approach for fabrication of meshes, suggesting that compromises need to be made in the amount of control designers have over the outcome of the process, so that we utilize design tools but also reconceive the way we perceive our interference in the process itself.

It is still being explored in a larger scale but has yielded promising results so far, not only with silkworms but in projects we have designed centered around ants and bees.

CT scan of bee cube produced in artificial zero gravity
Cofab Bee Cube
Bee cube with single rotational axis
Cofab Ant Tunnels Cast
Plaster cast of tunnels created by ants reacting to UV light
Robot arm with UV light end effector attracting ants


Collaborators (Silk I): Fiorenzo Omenetto, Tufts University; James C. Weaver, Wyss Institute, Harvard University; MIT Media Lab

Collaborators (Silk II): Davide Biasetto, Il Brolo Società Agricola SRL, Padua; Levi Cai; Silvia Cappellozza and Alessio Saviane, Council for Agricultural Research and Agricultural Economics Analysis (CREA-AA), Bologna; Natalia Casas; Kelly Egorova; Fiorenzo Omenetto, Tufts University; Sol Schade, Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA); James C. Weaver, Wyss Institute, Harvard University; Nitzan Zilberman; Bodino; Front Inc.; The Robert Woods Johnson Foundation; MIT Media Lab

Collaborators (Synthetic Apiary): Dr. James Weaver (Wyss Institute), Dr. Anne Madden (North Carolina State University), Mori Building Company, Mori Art Museum, Loftworks; The Best Bees Company: Dr. Noah Wilson-Rich, Philip Norwood, Jessica O’Keefe, Rachel Diaz-Granados; Andy and Susan Magdanz, Daniel Maher, James Day, The Mediated Matter Group, Jessica Tsymbal and Kevin Davis. MIT EHS: Lorena Altamirano

All images and videos courtesy of Neri Oxman and The Mediated Matter Group

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