April 1, 2008
MIT grads generate a jewelry collection using algorithms lifted from nature.
Jewelry designers Jessica Rosenkrantz and Jesse Louis-Rosenberg don’t carve their designs from precious rocks or chisel away at gold and silver. Instead, the cofounders of Nervous System prefer to grow their stunning creations. It’s a technological process with heavily organic inspiration.
Using two computer applications that they wrote together—one mimics branching dendrites, and the other apes the movement of particles—the designers, who met at MIT, generate forms for bracelets, pendants, and earrings. Rosenkrantz (currently taking a year off from graduate architecture studies at Harvard) first conceived of the line while laser-cutting a building model with a facade of shifting hexagons for a class project. Architecture and jewelry, she realized, both like pretty patterns. Those hexagons became the basis for the Radiolaria line, named after the sea creatures whose gorgeous cellular structures influenced Buckminster Fuller.
Like Fuller, the Nervous System duo is as interested in the structural properties of the forms they create as they are in the aesthetics. Luckily, Rosenkrantz spent time at the MIT Media Lab, where John Maeda’s seminal work spawned Processing, a simple popular design program that Rosenkrantz and Louis-Rosenberg now use to generate their own designs. One of the custom applications is an algorithm in which a particle moves randomly and sticks to anything it hits, resulting in coral-like patterns. Pieces of these patterns, which make up their Dendrite line, are then rendered in stainless steel by a metal-etching company that also “makes medical devices and things,” Rosenkrantz says.
“She’s more interested in the formal aspects, in the interactions between forms and process,” Louis-Rosenberg says. “I’m more interested in technology and making our designs in an open-source way.” In an attempt to demystify their designs, Nervous System has put both of the applications on its Web site (www.n-e-r-v-o-u-s.com), allowing visitors to join in the fun by creating their own coral-like Dendrite or weblike Radiolaria patterns, which can then be made into custom pieces.