In nature, pine cones change with the weather conditions. When the air is dry, they open up their scales to release their seeds, while rain or moisture will cause them to close up. By nature’s design, pine cones have two layers of scales – the exterior layer expands when it comes into contact with water, while dry conditions will cause the two layers to return to normal length, causing the pine cone to bloom.
Chen Chao became fascinated with this phenomenon during his time at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London. Through observation, dissection, and rigorous research on pine cone behavior, he created a biosynthetic material that mimics the reaction of pine cones to water. The project, named Water Reaction, has three main applications: as a moisture detector in soil for indoor plants, a building surface which changes color in the rain, and a shelter which automatically closes during downpours.
当时还在RCA学习的陈超，经过观察、解剖、实验，与严谨的仿生学文献的支持，发现了松塔这种对湿度的感应，并根据自己的发现设计出一种人工合成材料来模拟松塔鳞片。这就是Water Reaction，即水感应材料。这种材料有3个应用方向: 在雨中自动关闭的挡雨棚、建筑外立面（在雨中改变建筑的色彩）、土壤湿度提示器（室内种植使用）。
Previously, Chen Chao studied at Jiangnan University in Wuxi, China, where he worked in product development at the UP Spring Design Studio under Professor Huang Hao. At the time, Chen Chao’s work focused on local culture and natural resources including bucaro, bamboo, and cane. After becoming recognized for his work and receiving a Red Dot design award for design concept, Chao wanted to further expand his craft. Following in the footsteps of legendary English designers Jasper Morrison and Thomas Heatherwick, he also went to RCA, where he completed studies in Product Design.
陈超，近期毕业于英国皇家艺术学院 (RCA) 产品设计专业。此前在中国无锡的江南大学学习，期间曾参与导师黄昊老师壹分之贰产品设计工作室的组建与产品开发工作，专注研究地域文化与资源 (紫砂、竹、藤)，并以此为根基进行设计。虽已投入实际设计工作，在自己的作品获得红点设计大奖设计概念奖等奖项之后，他仍抱着想看“高山”的心态，追随Jasper Morrison、Thomas Heatherwick两位设计大师的脚步前往RCA。
The Water Reaction concept came about during Chao’s first year at the RCA in a class called “Curiosity.” Over the course of his studies, he would be exposed to new patterns of thinking, using individual perception and exploration of personal interests as the foundations of his process. This kind of approach was a “fairly experimental” departure from his previous training in China, which tended to start with a conclusion and end with a design. For Chen Chao, these two methods are analogous to Eastern and Western medicine, which are each inspired by their own respective environments, with neither being superior to the other.
Regarding the future of Chinese design, Chen Chao believes that the “Made in China” era is at a turning point. The manufacturing sector, economy, society, and education system of the country have all matured to bring about a new era of “Designed in China.” Chao will return to Beijing to lead new research projects, always looking towards nature and life as supreme principles. Currently, the Water Reaction project is still in its prototype phase, and needs development to address real-world issues such as strong winds, heavy rainstorms, and freezing temperatures. Like the future of Chinese design, it should be worth the wait.
Contributor: Banny Wang