The Silk Pavilion

The Silk Pavilion
September 5, 2017 Christina Mullin

The Silk Pavilion — an architectural experiment constructed at MIT, was “3-D printed” using 6,500 live silkworms. Humans have been breeding silkworms for fabric for over 5,000 years, but Media Lab professor Neri Oxman married their innate productivity with computerized efficiency. An aluminum scaffold was constructed and a CNC robot was used to string a lattice of silk starter threads across it in patterns that would provide a base for the worms to operate. The aluminum and string frame was hung in an atrium at MIT and thousands of silkworms were released on it. They swarmed over the structure’s surface and spun silk threads that ultimately created a dome that was equal parts Buckminster Fuller and Charlotte’s Web.

Potential applications are varied, but include fashion and architecture.

The lifecycle of a silkworm

Instead of the usual spinning of a cocoon for protection, silkworms created a natural treasure. When not spinning a silk pavilion, the caterpillar will have spun a cocoon, inside which a chrysalis develops over three weeks. The chrysalis emerges from the cocoon as a beautiful white otherworldly moth. The moths don’t have mouths, so therefore cannot eat but instead must mate. Once they have mated, the male dies, followed by the female after she has laid approximately 350 eggs. The eggs hatch and the cycle begins all over again as the larvae feed on mulberry leaves.


If you and your children happen to be in London in September, join Studio Cultivate at Chelsea Physic Garden for Silk // Unwoven Histories, as they take you on a journey of story-telling and garden exploration.