3D printing design studio Nervous System has been designing some intricate and beautiful work for the past eight years. And, in that time, they’ve often relied on the math and physics that guide our natural world to generate their unique jewelry, clothing, and sculptures. Today, the firm outlined the process that often guides their work, a piece of software that simulates the biomechanics of nature to yield objects that resemble leaves growing and flowers blooming. Nervous System calls this technique Floraform.
In the video below, Nervous System guides you through the way that Floraform works in a simple and elegant way, but Jesse Louis-Rosenberg describes it in this way, “Floraform is a simulation of a differentially growing elastic surface that we created to explore how biological systems create form by varying growth rates through space and time.” He goes on to say, “If a single cell were to divide and grow uniformly, it would result in a wrinkled blob. However, through carefully coordinated subdivision and differentiation, biological systems produce structures with specific, reproducible forms and functions. Growth isn’t uniform but instead differential.”
As the artists guided the generation of objects, they programmed Floraform to follow certain rules akin to this differential growth. For instance, as these structures unfold outward and inward, different branches were not allowed to collide. As the walls of a 3D model approached one another, they were forced to fold back inwards, resulting in the many folds you seen in some of their pieces.
The inspiration of Floraform, other than the natural world itself, was drawn from research from Harvard scientist Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan that saw Nervous System exploring the way that the very edges of an object might differentiate as they grow. In turn, the artists controlled various parameters that mimicked such natural growth, such as point-based growth, in which the center of an object grows the fastest and causes new branches to bifurcate outwards.
They also explored line-based growth, in which branches aren’t bifurcated, but remain connected along a single line.
And, finally, they’ve been working most with edge-based growth, in which the edges of an object grows the fastest.
Beginning with the Cockscomb flower, the studio sought to recreate the mutant plant’s ruffled appearance through preferential growth at the edge of the flower.
Floraform has resulted in a number of new works by Nervous System, including some covered on 3DPI were generated with this process. One of my personal favorites is the Growing Objects exhibition, a collection of 3D printed zoetropes that demonstrate this growth process via 19th century animation techniques. The design studio also created a number of pieces of jewelry, including 24 different pieces printed in nylon and sterling silver.
Right now, they’ve mostly worked with edge-based growth, but they have a lot more to cover, including new para maters for controlling the direction, speed, and material properties of the growing object. They’re also looking into using to create 4D objects that change with time upon printing, such as their own Kinematics Dress. And, even more exciting, Nervous System wants to unleash their awesome tool onto the world with a cloud-based version of Floraform, currently being developed. If you’re interested in being a beta tester, you can contact the studio at [email protected]
There’s even more to the math and science behind Floraform, so if you’re interested in learning more, head over to the Nervous System website and read Jesse’s post on the software.