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Grass Paint Turns Buildings Into Mega Chia Pets

Sangmin Bae designs a roller that allows sprouting seeds to be "painted" onto any surface.

We plant grass. We water our lawns. We aerate and fertilize and mow. We drink lemonade incessantly. Well-manicured green spaces, from backyards to baseball fields, are part of Americana.

So if the green space is symbolic of picture-perfect suburbia, graffiti has to be its punk rock, urban cousin. Like a flowering weed, graffiti sprouts and resprouts amidst the most uninhabitable concrete conditions.

Developed by professor Sangmin Bae of KAIST in conjunction with ID+IM Design Lab, Grass Paint is an unlikely amalgamation of these two cultures. It’s a simple compound of plant nutrients, pulp and CMC nontoxic glue. When mixed with grass seeds, the glop can be painted onto any surface with a standard paint roller. Just like a Chia Pet, grass will quickly sprout, and it can live up to six months, depending on the climate and the variety of grass used.

"Graffiti is interesting visual art that’s displayed in public spaces, but in most countries, painting property without the property owner’s consent is considered as vandalism," Bae tells Co.Design. "Also, the materials they use leave permanent damage…our idea started from the thinking of how to express the visual enjoyment effectively in an eco-friendly and healthy way."

Aside from the figurative and literal green graffiti, Bae imagines use cases like painting temporary signs that would wither away rather than be permanent fixtures. And it’s not hard to imagine other, more amazing implementations—like painting hot asphalt lots into a temporary parks.

The idea itself really is fantastic—indeed, Green Paint was a recipient of a reddot award for conceptual design—but while Bae has a working prototype, Grass Paint is an example where a good concept seems like it might be a little too good to be true. Have you ever tried to grow grass in a patch of hard dirt? Even in tilled and fertilized soil, the seedlings will have a tough go, and are likely to die in the first heat wave of the summer.

But beyond that, the bigger my issue is a mental one: With Grass Paint, you’re bringing a plant to life knowing that it will die (and probably die pretty soon). While the solution may be more environmentally conscious than spray paint, it still feels pretty wasteful—and if you will—ever so slightly cruel.

[Hat tip: reddot]