3D shapes can now be pre-printed onto flat sheets of uncooked pasta and only revealed during the boiling process, according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Nestlé’s food-science labs.

[Image: Courtesy of Carnegie Mellon’s Morphing Matter Lab, via New Scientist.]

“The 2D pasta morphs into 3D shapes when boiled because each piece is lined with tiny grooves, less than 1 millimetre wide, in particular patterns. The grooves increase the surface area of some parts of a piece of pasta. Areas with a higher surface area absorb water and swell faster,” New Scientist reports. “The groove pattern in terms of the depth, the height, and then the spacing are all very important,” researcher Wen Wang tells the magazine. “By utilizing this we could bend the pasta into the shape we would like.”

The idea is that this can dramatically cut down on packaging costs, material use, and food’s spatial footprint, eliminating the need for bulky boxes currently used to store not just pasta but empty air around all those imperfectly jumbled shapes.

While this is interesting in and of itself, it’s difficult not to wonder about the architectural possibilities inherent in such an approach. You could take advantage of perforations, cuts, grooves, and incisions in otherwise flat materials to hide 3D shapes that are only later revealed under very particular circumstances. This could, in fact, have quite ominous uses in, say, combat robotics—flat pieces of metal that crease and unfold into pop-up weaponry—but also humanitarian possibilities for self-constructing emergency shelters.

A new architectural avant-garde, inspired by science fiction and pasta, designing a world of flat surfaces awaiting future transformation.

Flat-pack architectural components, of course, are a very old story! I’m nevertheless intrigued by the idea of an imprinted 3D shape being only conditionally revealed: a flat board that becomes a building, say, but only at particular temperatures or humidities, perhaps even at certain altitudes or barometric pressures. You could imagine storm-triggered shelter pods, water-swollen coastal flood defenses, or even urban heat-warning architectures, among many other things, all based on similar materials.

Read more in the original paper, published by Science Advances.

10 thoughts on “Archipasta”

  1. As usual, both informative and inspiring. And I absolutely love “the idea of an imprinted 3D shape being only conditionally revealed: a flat board that becomes a building, say, but only at particular temperatures or humidities, perhaps even at certain altitudes or barometric pressures.”

  2. I’m sorry for the random nature of this second comment, but I love folds. And this is going to sound like a collection of disconnected foldy thingies, because the obvious thing is: as an Italian with a lifelong passion for Japan, I can’t think of a better approximation to satori than a combination of pasta and origami.

    But another lifelong fascination (or rather, a twelve-year long fascination) is with folds.

    Back at university I read Deleuze’s “La Pli” (The Fold) on Leibniz and the Baroque. His concept of “fold” is complex and I won’t go into it, but the analogy with the art of that period is with the architecture of Borromini (cracked, cut, curved, folding shapes) and the sculpture of Bernini (a virtuoso showoff if ever there was one).

    Years later I saw a PBS documentary called “Your Inner Fish“ by Neil Shubin, tie-in to his book of the same name. One of the episodes is about skin, and how skin folding, regulated by a protein called EDA (Ectodysplasin A, encoded by the gene of the same name), is responsible for feathers, hairs, and teeth.

    At some point in there I saw the fantastic documentary “Between the Folds” and discovered origami satellites.

    And in 2008, visiting the New Museum in New York for the first time, I had a eureka moment looking at the expanded aluminum cover used to louver the building. It’s not origami, but it’s one of the most interesting materials (or processes, rather) that, supposedly neutral, has had deep cultural impacts (see the fence marking the border between the DDR and West Germany).

    Back to Japan: the more folds there are in a traditionally forged blade, the stronger it is. And this applies to taffy folds and bread making as well. Now try making a katana out of taffy. It may not work, but it’s going to be delicious. Pretty much like origami pasta.

  3. So glad your blog is still happening! (On a break during three year retreat — I knew that these pages would intersect effortlessly with a mind full of Tibetan reality protocols)

  4. Your handler passes you a sheet of lasagna. You hurry home, lock the kitchen door, and prepare the special alphabet soup. Instructions successfully decoded, you consume the evidence.

  5. For emergency shelters, barriers, or the like, I feel like experimenting with vacuum-sealed material that can be released from it’s packaging and then expand – similar to what happens when you vacuum-seal a stuffed animal and then release it to the air.

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