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).


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.


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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