Neri Oxman, a designer, academic, and artist focused on the intersection of biology, materials science, and architecture, has been accused of improperly citing several sections of her 2010 doctoral thesis.
An article published in Business Insider claims that Oxman plagiarized multiple academic sources by omitting citations and failing to include quotation marks around multiple passages that were reused verbatim. In a post on X responding to the article, Oxman writes, “I regret and apologize for these errors.” She also used the opportunity to tease a new design company, called Oxman. (Fast Company reached out to Oxman for comment, and we will update the story if we hear back.)
The examination of Oxman’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology thesis comes on the heels of a similar set of plagiarism accusations leveled at Claudine Gay, who recently stepped down as president of Harvard University. Gay’s resignation stemmed from pressure related to what some activists saw as an inadequate institutional response to campus protests against Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. Oxman is married to the hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, a prominent Harvard donor who vocally pushed for Gay’s removal.
Oxman’s 2010 thesis, “Material-based Design Computation,” explored a then-novel combination of computational design and ecological processes in the context of architecture. The work, Oxman writes, is “inspired by Nature’s strategies where form generation is driven by maximal performance with minimal resources through local material property variation.” As Oxman notes in her response to Business Insider’s article, the few paragraphs without proper quotation marks represent only a tiny fraction of the 330-page dissertation.
Oxman has been a notable figure in architecture since before even completing her PhD. Named one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in 2009, she has long been at the forefront of using computation and advanced design technologies to integrate lessons and processes found in the forms created by ecological systems. A major 2022 solo exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art explored Oxman’s ecologically inspired designs dating back to 2007. Ahead of the exhibition’s opening, Oxman told Fast Company that the built world needs to be redesigned using some of the principles and patterns found in nature. “The concrete forest is too much like a monoculture and too little the thriving ecological niche it must become,” she said.
The company Oxman hinted at in her post on X is set to explore these ideas. Oxman notes that she has assembled a 27-person team that is “working to advance innovation in product, architectural, and urban design.” More details will be announced later this year, she says. Given her body of research and artistic work, any controversy stemming from misattributed paragraphs in her doctoral thesis seems unlikely to derail this new effort.