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After the Rain Comes a Smart Building Material

After the Rain Comes
a Smart Building Material

by TODD STOLARSKI | Jul 8, 2015

Inspiration tends to strike us when we least expect it. When Royal College of Art student Chao Chen was walking through rain showers in London's Hyde Park, that's exactly when it struck him.

Chen is in the midst of getting his masters degree in product design at the RCA and had to conduct a materials study at the time. Looking at a simple pine cone he observed that it defensively reacted by closing its outer shell. Immediately, Chen envisioned a building material that can shapeshift to the weather around it. He snatched a handful of pine cones for his study, went back to his apartment...err flat, and began to experiment.

After slicing them in half, he ascertained that "each pine cone has two layers," Chao Chen tells Meg Miller of Fast Company's Co.DESIGN. "When it gets wet, the outer layer elongates more than the inner layer and closes in on itself. As a designer, this was very important for me."


Chao took that info to create his new prototype building material. A laminate constructed from a combination of veneer, fabric and thin film all of which react to water in the exact same way. The veneer takes in water and its fibers expand, curving like the material of a pine cone's shell. 

Chen went next level for his final project. Entitled Water Reactionhe showed practical applications for his new building material. He demonstrated an open-air structure that would provide shelter inside of a park in the event of precipitation. "Users will feel like they’re standing under some sort of tree, enjoying the sunshine, but not very strong sunshine," Chen told Ms. Miller. "When it rains all the tiles will be closed to cover the whole surface of the shelter."

For the next bombshell building usage, Chen revealed that he developed a "color-revealing" architectural surface that will respond to water by curving in a concave fashion into several geometric shapes, to display a colored facade; a bright juxtaposition for those dreary rainy days outside.

As exciting as this as may be in the world of architecture, design, and construction it seems we are still some till away from having that picnic in the park on a rainy day. Chen is still working through the prototypes and making sure the water-resistant building materials stay true through higher winds. Though we will have to wait, it may not be too long, Chao Chen only developed this entire project in just one term.


For more information, check out the full article here.

You can check out Chen's "Water Reaction" and other projects here.
All images from Chao Chen

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