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+ultra. gestaltung creates knowledge

Tensegrity models originally constructed by Donald Ingber are featured in the '+ultra. gestaltung creates knowledge' exhibition at the Martin-Gropius-Bau Design Museum in Berlin

+ultra. gestaltung creates knowledge
In the top right of the photograph are two tensegrity sculptures constructed by Donald Ingber. The outer one is composed of metal struts that push out against a tensed network of elastic cables, thereby creating a mechanical force balance that stabilizes the entire structure. The inner structure is composed of wood and nylon twine. Credit: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

It is widely accepted that knowledge is Gestaltung (design) and that, vice versa, Gestaltung produces knowledge. Extending these relationships, an ongoing exhibition ‘+ultra. gestaltung creates knowledge’ at the Martin-Gropius-Bau Design Museum in Berlin explores how design also actively shapes our perception of the world and how consciously formed images, models and tools shape the knowledge they produce.

The exhibition reveals the fundamental role design processes play in the sciences and humanities. From the hand axe to the digitally monitored organ, from active matter to image-guided actions – the exhibition deals with the increasing interdependence of the human and technological spheres and what challenges arise from this development.

The displays analyze the current mergence of the digital and the analog, as we are steering towards a completely new material culture. Spotlights on historical continuities as well as on profound transformations in the relationship between nature and culture sharpen our awareness for present developments.

Featured in the +ultra. gestaltung creates knowledge” exhibition are tensegrity models originally constructed by Wyss Institute Founding Director Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D. One of these models on display was built by Ingber out of wooden dowels and nylon string forty years ago while he was studying in an art course as an undergraduate at Yale University.

As part of the exhibition opening, Ingber gave a talk, “Discovery of Tensegrity in Cells: The Architecture of Life,” where he discussed how tensegrity (tensional integrity) architecture – first explored by the architect Buckminster Fuller and sculptor Kenneth Snelson – has been shown to govern how living cells structure themselves at the nanometer scale employing molecular struts, contractile microfilaments and interconnected nuclear and membrane structures.

This insight then were extended to the view that tensegrity is utilized to stabilize shape and mechanics at virtually all size scales in living systems, from the simplest molecules to the entire human body. Ingber’s lecture highlighted how the construction of physical stick-and-string tensegrity models enabled and advanced these discoveries.

Also on display are Human Organs-on-Chips developed by the Wyss Institute, which are microfluidic devices lined with human cells that recapitulate how human organ’s function; as well as samples of Shrilk, which is a biodegradable material made from shrimp shells and proteins derived from silk that could replace planet-clogging plastics and be used in implantable medical devices.

The exhibit is presented by the the Excellence Cluster, an Interdisciplinary Laboratory at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and curated by Nikola Doll in collaboration with Katharina Lee Chichester. The exhibition runs from September 30, 2016 until January 8, 2017. For more information, please visit

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