03/12/2019: Skylar Tibbits SM '05, MIT Self-Assembly Lab, Speaks to Alumni in New York

On March 12, 2019, the MIT Club of New York and MITArchA (the MIT Architecture Alumni Affinity Group) joined forces to host a talk by Skylar Tibbits SM ’05, Assistant Professor of the MIT Department of Architecture and Founder of the MIT Self-Assembly Lab. The talk was held at the New York office of Arup, a world-renowned engineering consultancy.

Professor Tibbits began his talk by discussing the history of digital design and fabrication, as well as MIT’s early involvement in the development of computer-aided design technologies. He described his interest in materials (developed during his graduate studies at MIT) before describing the concept of Self Assembly: “a process by which disordered parts build an ordered structure through only local interaction”. He showed some research projects that explored this concept including Aerial Assembly and the Fluid Assembly Chair. Professor Tibbits then showed a developing real-world application of the concept—a sand assembly project tested in the Maldives in which a series of weighted inflatable bags are used to promote the creation of sandbars that fight erosion and facilitate reef creation.

Tibbits then spoke about the concept of Programmable Materials—compositions that are designed to become highly dynamic, but are cost-effective, easily fabricated and capable of flat-pack shipping and self-assembly. He showed the audience multiple explorations of this concept, including: Rapid Liquid Printing, in which furniture-sized objects are printed in a gel; Active Shoes, in which a two-dimensional pattern self-transforms into a three-dimensional form after being released from the machine; and Rock Printing, which uses the concept of “granular jamming” to create rigid structures that can be easily disassembled.

Professor Tibbits concluded his presentation with the following phrase: “Today we program computers and machines. Tomorrow we will program matter itself.” Interested and engaged alumni asked many questions after the presentation, ending the event on a high note.

Special thanks to Alessandra Vecchiarelli SM '13 MEng '15 for her invaluable assistance with this event.