Vespers III

Vespersiii Web 17
Vespers III video

Hybrid living masks

Research team: Christoph Bader, Rachel Soo Hoo Smith, Dominik Kolb, Sunanda Sharma, João Costa, James C. Weaver. Prof. Neri Oxman

Year: 2018

Location: Design Museum, 2016, London, United Kingdom. National Gallery of Victoria, 2018, Melbourne, Australia

Platform: Hybrid Living Materials & Data Driven Material Modeling

What remains once life has been lived? Can the death mask drive the formation of new life?


The masks in Vespers III are habitats for microorganisms and sites for the creation of new life. The third series revolves around death and rebirth, denoting both spiritual incarnation and biological recapitulation.

Devoid of cultural expressions and initially nearly colorless, these masks are paradoxically the most ‘alive’ of the three series. They literally ‘re-engineer’ life by guiding living microorganisms using spatial features from the artifacts of the dead. The microorganisms' protein expressions are distributed according to the spatial logic provided by the second series.


To create the Vespers III masks, novel tools and techniques were developed that enable tight integration between, and control of, designed and biologically derived properties. Through this process, we have demonstrated a platform to create an entirely new class of materials, termed Hybrid Living Materials.

Computational design is integrated with additive manufacturing and synthetic biology to digitally fabricate objects that direct living microorganisms to produce pigments that emulate the colors of the first series of the collection.

Vespersiii Hlm Blue Pigment Bacteria
Optical Micrograph of a Colony of Engineered Bacteria
Vespersiii Hlm Blue Pigment Bacteria Response
Blue Pigment Generated In Response to Printed Biosignal
Vespersii Hlm Blue Pigment Bacteria Across Surface
Living Engineered Bacteria Produce Pigment Across Surfaces
Hlm Prototype Bacteria Colors Gray
Prototype of three colors produced by bacteria

Incubation temperature in Celcius


Average normal body temperature in Celsius


We leverage 3D printable bioactive materials to spatially template the biological response of living microorganisms. Thus, computational and digital fabrication tools are customized to direct the growth and expression of microorganisms contained within the mask.

Our research enables the computational design and digital fabrication of consumer products and freestanding structural materials. From customized cosmeceutical and antibiotic production in wearable devices, to smart packaging and surface coatings that can detect contamination, to environmentally responsive architectural skins, this research offers a new space for biological augmentation across a wide breadth of application domains, by leveraging both resolution and scale.

Vespersiii Hlm Bacteria Gradient Response Diagram
Bacterial Response to Biosignal Diffusion
Vespersiii Hlm Bacteria Response To Biosignal Diagram
Bacterial response to biosignal material ratio
Vespersiii Hlm Computational Design Environment Diagram
Computation design process
Vespersiii Hlm Pigment Production Two Species
Test of pigment expression and flexible materials

Doubling Time of E. Coli in minutes

Vespersiii Ddmm Leaf Pigment Test
Prototype of a leaf using Hybrid Living Materials


Vespers is a collection of masks exploring what it means to design (with) life. Vespers III features a living mask as an enabling technology. Combined, the three series of the Vespers collection represent the transition from death to life, or from life to death, depending on one’s reading of the collection.

The living masks embody habitats that guide, inform and ‘template’ gene expression of living microorganisms. Such microorganisms have been synthetically engineered to produce pigments and/or otherwise useful chemical substances for human augmentation such as vitamins, antibodies or antimicrobial drugs.

Hlm Empty Mask
Vespers mask capturing bacteria from breath. Photo: Yoram Reshef
Vespersiii Mask 02 Front Gray
Vespers III Mask 02 after incubation. Photo: Yoram Reshef
Hlm 720p 02
Closeup of Vespers III mask 04
The masks transition from vessels representative of neuro-vasculature to actual biological urns marking a new cycle of life.

These masks—now living things unto themselves—feature patterns generated by genetic regulatory signals distributed according to the spatial logic provided by the second series. The microorganisms and their byproducts, which animate the mask with properties greater than the sum of its parts, reinterpret the color palette of the first series and thereby biologically recreate their cultural precursors.

Transitioning from vessels of representative neuro-vasculature to actual biological urns, the masks in this series mark a new cycle of life and the notion of continuation. The martyr’s faces are no longer preserved but have transformed into sites of and for new life.

Vespersiii Mask 02 Side
Mask 02 side view. Photo: Yoram Reshef
Vespersiii Maks 03 Top
Mask 03 front. Photo: Yoram Resheanderf
Vespersiii Mask 01 Front Color
Mask 01 front. Photo: Yoram Reshef
Vespersiii Mask 04 Close Up
Mask 04 closeup. Photo: Yoram Reshef


The project points towards an imminent future where wearable interfaces and building skins are customized not only to fit a particular shape, but also a specific material, chemical and even genetic make-up, tailoring the wearable to both the body and the environment which it inhabits.

Research at the core of this project offers a new design space for biological augmentation across a wide breadth of application domains, leveraging resolution and scale.

Imagine, for example, a wearable interface designed to guide ad-hoc antibiotic formation customized to fit the genetic makeup of its user; or, consider smart packaging or surface coatings devices that can detect contamination; finally, consider environmentally responsive architectural skins that can respond to, and adapt—in real time—to environmental cues.

A future is imminent where wearable interfaces and building skins are customized to chemical and genetic make-up, tailored to the body and environment.
Closeup of bacterial incubation and color synthesis


Hybrid Living Materials: Digital Design and Fabrication of 3D Multimaterial Structures with Programmable Biohybrid Surface (2019) - DOI, supp


Collaborators & Contributors: Gal Begun; Boris Belocon; Kelly Egorova; Jeremy Flower; Ahmed Hosny; Noah Jakimo; Naomi Kaempfer; Wendy Salmon; Tzu-Chieh Tang; New Ancient collection, Stratasys Ltd.; MIT Environmental Health and Safety; Media Lab Facilities; The Center for Bits and Atoms; MIT Media Lab; Danielle Van Zadelhoff

Created in collaboration with Stratasys Ltd. for the New Ancient Collection

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

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