The idea of a living, breathing material world has captured the imagination of people for centuries. Natural materials and structures constantly respond and adapt to changes in the environment which makes organisms resilient to change. Yet our built environment is static and does not morph in response to changing conditions as natural structures do. Today, many objects are discarded simply because of the need for minor adjustments.
We initially set out to build climate-responsive architectural facades, but quickly realised that the materials we needed to start prototyping were hard to get a hold of and very expensive. Despite over three decades of research into shape memory materials, they are yet to be widely adopted and are largely invisible in our everyday lives. They are prohibitively expensive, difficult to obtain and even more difficult to process.
Consequently, we developed re:flex as a low cost, widely available and more sustainable shape memory material that can be manufactured at low temperatures on a large scale. With re:flex, we imagine a world where the materials we use are no longer inert, allowing objects to be reshaped by users according to their needs.
As a shape memory composite, re:flex remembers the form it is made in. You can heat it, deform it into a temporary shape, and cool it down to freeze it in place. When heated again, it returns to its original shape.
It is made of two components, a flexible shell and a core with a higher stiffness. We can adjust the temperature range and speed at which the composite operates by varying the composition and geometry of the inner material.
We met doing the Innovation Design Engineering masters programme at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London.