We present a unique approach combining biological manipulation with advanced imaging tools to examine silica cell wall synthesis in the diatom Thalassiosira pseudonana. The innate capabilities of diatoms to form complex 3D silica structures on the nano- to micro-scale exceed current synthetic approaches because they use a fundamentally different formation process. Understanding the molecular details of the process requires identifying structural intermediates and correlating their formation with genes and proteins involved. This will aid in development of approaches to controllably alter structure, facilitating the use of diatoms as a direct source of nanostructured materials. In T. pseudonana, distinct silica morphologies were observed during formation of different cell wall substructures, and three different scales of structural organization were identified. At all levels, structure formation correlated with optimal design properties for the final product. These results provide a benchmark of measurements and new insights into biosilicification processes, potentially also benefiting biomimetic approaches.