The idea came on a rainy day. Walking in London’s Hyde Park, Chao Chen stopped to pick up and consider a pinecone’s anatomy. ‘Nature always has a professional way to solve life’s problem. In order to release and protect its seeds, a pinecone has the amazing ability to open and close through its surface reaction to water,’ says the Royal College of Arts product design student.
‘This natural phenomenon led me to a material study into pinecone [sic] of bio-mimicry science.’ The outcome was a smart building surface that can shapeshift when in contact with water, mimicking the pinecone’s architecture.
The material, for instance, can be used as a water-reacting shelter ‘covered in laminated tiles that open up on sunny days, but stack on top of each other to provide shelter when it starts to rain. Imagine such a shelter being used in the middle of a park or other public spaces,’ said Chen in a Fast Company interview. ‘Users will feel like they’re standing under some sort of tree, enjoying the sunshine, but not very strong sunshine.’