Project

Silk Pavilion I

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Silk I video
What are sustainable and humane methods for harvesting, spinning and weaving silk-based products and structures? How can humans collaborate with other species to create new materials and structures without depleting natural resources?

Silkworm-spun pavilion

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

Year: 2013

Location: Media Lab. 2013. Cambridge, MA

Platform: Co-Fabrication



Project

The Silk Pavilion, a precursor to Silk Pavilion II, explores relationships between digital and biological construction, proposing methods that unite the biologically spun and the robotically woven. Inspired by the silkworm’s ability to generate a three-dimensional cocoon out of a single silk thread, Silk Pavilion I was developed in 2013 and took form as a three-meter wide dome, constructed over three weeks with a flock of 6,500 live silkworms assisted by a robotic arm. Each silkworm spun a single silk thread filament that is about 1km long. Combined, the silkworms produced a dome-shaped thread as long as the Silk Road. 

By studying how the silkworm’s spinning behavior is informed by spatial and environmental conditions, we were able to guide the silkworm’s movement to spin two-dimensional sheets rather than three-dimensional cocoons.

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Layout of the the underlying support structure
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Polygonal panels assembled into a geodesic dome
Silk Web 02
Biologically-spun silk over robotically-spun silk
Traditionally, silk is harvested by boiling the larvae alive in their cocoons to extract silk thread. In stark contrast, this process allows the silkworms to live and metamorphosize in relative peace.

Process

The base structure of the pavilion was created of 26 polygonal panels made of silk threads laid down by a Computer-Numerically Controlled (CNC) machine. Once established, a swarm of 6,500 silkworms was positioned at the bottom rim of the scaffold, where they began their work, spinning flat non-woven silk patches, locally reinforcing the gaps across the CNC-deposited silk fibers. 

The geometry of the pavilion was created using an algorithm that places a single continuous thread across patches providing various degrees of density. The overall density variation of the silk sheets was informed by the silkworm itself, deployed as a biological “printer” in the creation of this secondary structure.

Due to their sensitivity to environmental conditions —geometrical density as well as variation in natural light and heat—the silkworms were found to migrate to darker and denser areas. With this in mind, we were able to calibrate variations in the thickness of the silk sheets to desired specifications.

A sun-path diagram—registering the location of the sun at any point of time during the duration of the installation—was used to determine the placement of apertures on the panels to modulate the distribution of light and heat on the surface, thus influencing the position of silkworms and the density of their silk across the structure.

Silk I Silkworm With Magnet
Silkworm with magnet attached
Silk I Motiontracking
3D mapping magnetic sensor chamber
Silk 1 Silk Spun In Sensor Chamber
Silk cocoon spun in sensor chamber
Silk I Height Response
Silkworm templated response to height
Silk I Silk Thermal Templating
Thermal templating of silk web
Silk I Silk Scaffolding Before And After
Silk spun on a removable scaffolding structure
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Scanning electron micrograph of a silk cocoon
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Section view of a silk cocoon
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Intricate fiber layering created by the spinning
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6,500 silkworms spun for 3 weeks to complete the structure
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Each silkworm spun an estimated 1 kilometer of silk

Millions of eggs produced by silkworms in pavilion

1.5

New pavilions that can be made from these eggs

250

Credits

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

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

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