Rock Skin: Peeling Back Time

A new material leaves empathetic imprints of Earth’s oldest material.

In our era of environmental sensitivity, should we give any consideration to rocks? Studio Pararaum thinks we should. To our collective consciousness they may seem like the very definition of “everlasting,” but even rocks wear down, normally due to geological processes over time. Yet to some, there is an argument to be made that modernity is quickening their erosion thanks to the harvesting of stone as construction materials for rapidly expanding cities. In effect, mountains are being depleted.

Meng Li and Linda Zhang, the founding duo of Studio Pararaum based in Zürich and Toronto (Zhang is a registered architect and an Assistant Professor at Ryerson University RSID), saw part of the problem resulting from a “detachment between building and sourcing” and in response developed Rock Skin, a bioplastic latex film applied to and then peeled off the surfaces of rock formations, capturing surface imprints in a reusable mold that carries visible traces of the geological formation. “We can still experience the reality of the mountain through its texture and form, even though the mountain isn’t physically present,” say the pair. “It mediates between ‘a fragment of the mountain’ and ‘a building block’, aiming to reconnect the collective consciousness with the consumption of resources and extraction processes implicit in production.” The imprints of rock surfaces are “captured in time,” with the latex leaving them “untouched” — what Li and Zhang call “an act of resistance against depletion.”

Rock and Skin (Photo: Studio Pararaum)

First exhibited at the Seoul Biennale of 2021, Rock Skin is intended to be used to form architectural elements, giving the feel of natural rock without destroying the rock, with colourants for the bioplastic sustainably foraged onsite. One of the first product prototypes to be made using the new material is a series of pendant lights, the designs for which are being further developed and slated for release in the fall of 2022 with support from the Ikea Foundation of Switzerland and the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia.

Rock Skin Luminares