SHAPESHIFTER

Chao Chen is a Royal College of Art in London. Whilst undertaking his MA in Design, he was inspired by an ordinary ‘pinecone’ he saw in Hyde Park. It prompted him to layer together a veneer, some fabric, and a thin layer of film. In doing so, he created a material that reacts to water (as a pinecone does by opening when sunny and closing when sensing rain).

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The material he invented is now in its prototype phase and needs further refinement. Currently, in his Water Reactions project, Chao Chen has already begun to tease-out potential uses for the material. In one of his project descriptions, his material acts as a perfect ‘picnic shelter’. with the skin of the shelter porous and open during sunshine, yet conveniently closing itself up during rain.

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In another description, on long rainy London days, the surface could curl itself up to reveal a brightly coloured under-layer, brightening-up peoples’ otherwise dreary day (see the video for a visual description).

Finally, in another description, tiny strips of this amazing material are used to indicate when your plant would need watering. If the strip bends into a curve, all was good with your plants. However, if the strip straightened out, then the plants would need watering. A perfect indexical sign! We await further development.

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