Brad Pitt and Neri Oxman, 42, reportedly met through an architecture project at MIT, where she works as a professor of media arts and sciences at the school’s Media Lab. While the nature of the project is unknown, Brad Pitt is a noted architecture enthusiast and founded the Make It Right Foundation, which builds affordable and environmentally friendly homes in New Orleans for people in need.
Here are 5 things to know about the renowned architect:
1. Brad Pitt’s New Friend Neri Oxman was born in Israel.
Oxman’s work and aesthetic, which fuses elements of nature with architectural design, has its roots in her childhood. Born in Haifa, Israel, she enjoyed splitting her time between exploring her grandmother’s garden and her parents’ architectural studio, according to her profile on the Vilcek Foundation’s website. Both of her parents — Robert, an American, and Rivka, a native Israeli — were well-known architects. She also has a younger sister, Karen, who works as an artist in mixed media.
“She grew up ‘between nature and culture,’ pressing leaves and making balsa airplanes,” the Vilcek Foundation’s website says.
In a 2016 interview with Surface magazine, she described her childhood as “funky” and filled with creative influences. After fulfilling her mandatory service in the Israeli military, she applied to medical school. But after two years of studying at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, she transferred to the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, where her father was a professor.
After studying in Jerusalem and later London, Oxman immigrated to the United States in 2005 to study under her mentor, renowned design theoretician Prof. William J. Mitchell, at MIT. She became an associate professor at MIT in 2010 and has remained at the school ever since.
2. She was married to a famous composer.
Oxman was previously married to renowned Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1995, a MacArthur Fellowship in 2003 and the Vilcek Prize in Music in 2008, among other honors. He also won two Grammy awards for Best Opera Recording and Best Classical Contemporary Composition for his work on 2007’s Ainadamar.
The duo married in 2011 and Oxman later told Slate the composer’s music had an “incredible influence” on her work. Intensely private about her personal life, Oxman has decline to comment on her split from Golijov. In 2017, Oxman told W Magazine that she does not have children.
3. Her most famous design was built by worms.
Using a combination of robotics and live silkworms, Oxman created her most famous project, a dome-like structure dubbed The Silk Pavilion, in 2003.
Inspired by the way silkworms weave cocoons, the pavilion was created by 6,500 live silkworms that were deployed on a base structure created by a robotic arm. The final product is meant to be a fusion of human and natural design.
“We’ve managed to motion-track the silkworm’s movement as it is building its cocoon,” Oxman told Dezeen. “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.”
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4. She’s won a lot of awards.
Oxman’s work has been praised by her contemporaries and featured in a number of museums. She’s held exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art and Boston’s Museum of Science, both of which also have some of her pieces in their permanent collections. MoMa curator Paola Antonelli called her “a person ahead of her time, not of her time” in a 2016 interview with Surface magazine, and futurist author Bruce Sterling told ABITARE Magazine that her work is “shatteringly different from anything before.”
In addition, she won the Vilcek Prize in Design in 2014, the MIT Collier Medal in 2016, the Carnegie “Pride of America” Award in 2014, the Earth Award for Future Crucial Design in 2009 and the Holcim Foundation Next Generation award in 2008. She’s also a senior fellow in the Design Futures Council and was a Culture Leader at the World Economic Forum in 2016.
Oxman was named the “most talented, intelligent, funny, and gorgeous Jewish women in the world” by Shalom Life in 2012.
5. She once name-dropped Pitt in an old interview.
In a 2017 interview with W Magazine, Oxman used the actor — and his good pal George Clooney — as examples of the human tendency to idolize male icons.
Asked if she thinks the issue of male dominance is unique to her profession, she said, “For the same reason we have the Brad Pitt and the George Clooneys, it’s just part of human nature to idolize stereotypes.”
She added, “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.”