Floraform – an exploration of differential growth
by Jesse Louis-Rosenberg
Introducing Floraform, the latest generative design system from Nervous System. Floraform is inspired by the biomechanics of growing leaves and blooming flowers and explores the development of surfaces through differential growth. We used this system to computationally craft a new 3D-printed jewelry collection.
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. It began with an unusual flower, Celosia cristata, and led us through a journey of cellular differentiation, discrete differential geometry, kleptoplastic sea slugs, nastic movements, and 19th century zoetropes. The result is a series of 3D-printed sculptures and jewelry generated through a computational process of differential growth.
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.
With our minds contemplating this growth model, we began to see rippled forms in diverse ecosystems and kingdoms of life: Sparassis fungi, lettuce sea slugs, lace bryozoans, kale and lettuce leaves, plumose anemone, iris flowers, jellyfish arms. So we started to build a digital environment where we could investigate these ideas.
The first step in our investigation was to map out how different spatial distributions of growing signal result in different structural typologies.
We developed a set of mechanisms that allowed us to control, manipulate, and sculpt the growing process. These act as a set of material and environmental conditions that we can vary through space and time to produce finely differentiated structures.
Our first results were a series of sculptures that we produced for our “Growing Objects” exhibition at Stonybrook University. This included pieces 3D-printed in full color, where the coloration of the surface reflects the growth rates that produced it, as well as a zoetrope that acts as a physical animation of the growth process.
We’ve generated a new jewelry collection with the Floraform system. For each piece, we crafted a unique growth process that results in a specific emergent form. The flowering structures expand fastest along their edges, evolving from simple surfaces to flexuous forms that fill space with curves, folds, and ruffles.
The collection explores how different starting geometries interact with the growth process to produce the final pieces. We use contact with the body as an environmental constraint, producing designs that conform to or expand from the finger, wrist, and neck.
Floraform right now is a digital construct. However, there has been a lot of research recently on printing shape changing materials, or so called 4D printing. Designing for these shape changing processes can be quite difficult, especially for complex forms. Floraform could serve as a design tool for the creation of physically transforming objects.