Silk Pavilion by MIT Media Lab poses some interesting questions about how what it calls "biological fabrication" might fit into the future of making things alongside 3D printing and similar computer-aided cleverness. To make the silk and metal dome, the work begun by robotic weavers was completed by silkworms – 6,500 of them.
The frame of the Silk Pavilion is made up of 26 metal hexagons. On each side of every hexagon are a series of metal teeth. A computer numerical control (CNC) machine threads silk about these teeth to create a silky lattice. By determining patterns for the machine to follow, "windows" in the lattice can be made, or, more accurately, left out. These were strategically placed to let direct light into the pavilion from the south and east windows of the surrounding room. An east-facing aperture doubles as a sun-clock oculus.
UPGRADE TO NEW ATLAS PLUS
More than 1,500 New Atlas Plus subscribers directly support our journalism, and get access to our premium ad-free site and email newsletter. Join them for just US$19 a year.UPGRADE
The next step was to add 6,500 "biological printers," or silkworms (Bombyx mori) to the lower edge of the pavilion. From there they were free to wander about the lattice and spin, which, evidently, they did, adding the byways to the CNC machine's highways. Gradually, the silkworms filled out the pavilion like a thickening cumulus cloud, though the team notes that the worms were particularly drawn to more shaded, denser areas of the surface, perhaps being the most preferable spots to spin their silk cocoons.
Finally, the MIT Media Lab team removed the silkworms after they'd become pupae, and before they become (rather beautiful) silkmoths. The team says that the resulting moths would produce enough silkworms to spin another 250 pavilions. Though no one's suggesting silkworms will become the builders of the future (not the most robust of building materials, silk), MIT's pavilion does prod at the definition of 3D printing, and asks if there's room for more than plastic fabrication machines.
A video of the making of the Silk Pavilion, carried out by MIT Media Lab's Mediated Matter Group (Bombyx mori notwithstanding), is below.