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]

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  • Chewy

    I wonder what kind of schmutz is left on the wall after the plants die?  Does the 'industrial adhesive' biodegrade, or are we left with a more-or-less permanent display of dead plants and grotty adhesive residue?

  • Stu

    I personally think almost every city in the world could benefit on many, many levels from the implementation of a product like this, albeit with moss and/or lichen, to prevent architects and building planners from losing sleep over the effects of the grass roots (heh heh) on their monolithic concrete structures.
    As far as feeling cruel goes...yes, I can see where that comes from, as someone who regularly cultivates plants and trees for the betterment of my environment, not only for consumption. I'm always saddened when something I've nurtured from a seed doesn't make it. 

    Imagine the positive impact this product could have on the built environ. The creation of green space where previously there was only concrete. Water consumption in drier climates would be my only criticism, but where there's a will there's bound to be a way.

  • Jeffrey J Schimtz

    Cruel?  I guess you don't eat vegetables or grains because it's cruel?

    I wonder if you feel the same way about a stem cell line created so that we can "harvest" its goods, which leads to its death.  To me THAT is cruel.  Plants are not people. 

  • Daniel Murphy

     interesting concept, though as the other respondants have noted there are some serious issues. I wont rehash them but have one other.

    Depending on the building surface that this is painted on and the species that is used this could affect the building structure depending on the roots penetrating ability. Quite a serious concern.

    Though i like the idea, actually places where i'd implement it.... not to many locations, though if its tough grass i would think to use it in schools and other high uses areas.

  • Natalie

    Ivy is the only plant here that makes sense to "paint" on a wall. Both the clover and the grass plants wouldn't be able to grow on a wall, they need soil for their roots to grow in. The best choice for this would be a type of moss. Mosses don't have true roots and often will start naturally growing on the sides of buildings.
    I'm not sure why you're bringing up a moral issue about growing plants. With your logic we should stop growing produce as we're doing the same thing, not to mention intentionally "killing" them for harvest. Those who actually know how to properly care for plants can keep them alive for many years provided they aren't annuals.

  • SJ

    I have a bone to pick about the plant choice:
    Ivy: ivy is an invasive species, it can spread out of control, and planting it is illegal in parts of the U.S.
    Clover: the illustration is meant to look like a typical "shamrock" and looks like Wood Sorrel, which is not a kind of clover.  Clovers typically have oval leaves.
    Grass: there are about 3,500 species of grasses; presumably, this product doesn't use bamboo, corn, water chestnut, or other large grasses.  The species is more likely bluegrass or fescue of some kind.

    Do your research so a teenage Botany major doesn't have to call you out on it next time.

  • Capra J'neva

    I find it hilarious that their infographic shows a dicot seedling magically transforming into grass--grass is a monocot!  It does make you wonder if they really know anything about plants...but seriously, is the author really wasting his energy worrying about cruelty to grass?  I have spent years trying to get rid of grass lawns that every year steal back the land I pull it out from to plant actual useful deeper concern here would be spreading the green menace further.  I'd far rather paint out some spray-can graffiti than have to get rid of a growing and mutating graffiti that is trying to reproduce itself through roots, runners and seeds.  Of the types of seed they offer, clover is the only one I wouldn't mind (and there the dicot is entirely appropriate)...I believe ivy is illegal to propagate in many states as it is so invasive--though that might give would-be hooligans an additional criminal high!

  • Stu

    And to the useful things you plant regenerate the soil in the same way a grass does? Just sayin...nature will always seek equilibrium.