5 things to know about Neri Oxman, the MIT professor linked to Brad Pitt

The architect, designer, and professor is interesting in her own right.

Neri Oxman at her Brookline home in 2012.
Neri Oxman at her Brookline home in 2012. –Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff

You may have read some confusing headlines recently about MIT professor Neri Oxman, an architect and designer who works at the MIT Media Lab. More specifically, you may have seen something about her alleged connection to Brad Pitt.

“Brad Pitt and MIT genius Neri Oxman pose together in previously-unseen snap as SIX MONTH relationship is revealed,” wrote the UK-based Daily Mail.

“Who is Brad Pitt’s ‘girlfriend’ Neri Oxman,” wondered Metro UK.

On this side of the pond, headlines were a bit more cautious, and for good reason: Not a single source, anonymous or otherwise, has said that Pitt and Oxman are dating. The article that kicked off the frenzy, from the New York Post‘s Page Six, quoted an anonymous source that categorized Pitt’s and Oxman’s connection as “best described as a professional friendship” built on a shared love of architecture.

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Of course, Oxman is a fascinating person in her own right. Here are a few things to know about the 42-year-old professor from Israel.

1. She built one of her most distinct works with the help of silkworms.

Oxman is the founder and head of the Mediated Matter group at the MIT Media Lab, which focuses on “nature-inspired design and design-inspired nature.” One example of that intersection is “The Silk Pavillion,” a geodesic dome built partially by a high-tech 3D printer and reinforced by the threads of 6,650 silkworms.

“We’ve managed to motion-track the silkworm’s movement as it is building its cocoon,” Oxman told architecture and design magazine Dezeen in 2013. “Our aim was to translate the motion-capture data into a 3D printer connected to a robotic arm in order to study the biological structure in larger scales.”

2. She has mentioned Pitt before (and not necessarily in a positive way).

Neri Oxman poses with her artwork alongside David Edwards, founder of Le Laboratoire. —Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

In an April 2017 interview with W Magazine, Oxman was asked about whether the field of architecture was unique in being dominated by males. Oxman cited stereotypes in her response — and used Brad Pitt and George Clooney as examples.

“For the same reason we have the Brad Pitts and the George Clooneys, it’s just part of human nature to idolize stereotypes,” Oxman said. “Such singularities are useful to the common perception of heroism. But it’s not only true for architecture; it’s true in musical composition, for females working in theater, for film directors. This isn’t just a disease of the architecture profession; it’s a phenotype of human culture and how we develop stereotypes and perceptions.”

3. She’s given a TED Talk.

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In Oxman’s 2015 talk, she spoke about how machine-based design could combine with designs found in nature. In one example, she explained how she thinks assembly-line production has limited how humans conceive of design.

“Assembly lines have dictated a world made of parts, framing the imagination of designers and architects who have been trained to think about their objects as assemblies of discrete parts with distinct functions,” Oxman said. “But you don’t find homogenous material assemblies in nature. Take the human skin for example. Our facial skins are thin with large pores, our back skins are thicker with small pores. One acts mainly as filter, the other mainly as barrier. And yet, it’s the same skin, no parts, no assemblies. It’s a system that gradually varies its functionality by varying elasticity.”

4. She has previously been recognized for her style.

Neri Oxman at her Brookline home.
Neri Oxman at her Brookline home. —Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff

The Boston Globe Magazine selected Oxman as one of its 25 most stylish Bostonians of 2012, with Oxman telling the magazine that while she appreciated “good tailoring as much as good details of construction,” she preferred to wear simple clothing.

“To wear a beautiful new garment is like wearing a new idea, and I see them as the same thing,” Oxman told the magazine. “Opening my closet is a form of meditation. I pick whatever I feel is right for the day. It’s usually only a matter of seconds before I’m out of the house.”

That same year, the now-defunct Jewish-centric publication Shalom Life placed Oxman at the top of its list celebrating the “50 most talented, intelligent, funny, and beautiful Jewish women in the world,” ahead of actresses like Gal Gadot (“Wonder Woman”), Dianna Agron (“Glee”), and Eva Green (“Casino Royale”).

5. Her works have been exhibited both in the Boston area and worldwide.

A 3D-printed cape and skirt designed by Iris van Herpen and Neri Oxman at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. —Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
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Oxman’s designs aren’t just at MIT — her work has been displayed at the Museum of Science and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and institutions in Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, and France.

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