the jenju village community in taiwan, also known as ‘jane’s pearl’, is the ancestral site of the pingpu kamalan tribe. the dongshan river runs directly through the community, making it ideal for residents to preserve the area’s rice paddy-based industry, which accounts for up to 136 hectares of the area in and around the village. following each rice harvest, a huge amount of rice straw is left behind. historically for farmers, this was an essential building and material supply. however, with our changing times, this excess supply is no longer needed for building and is not being utilized.

‘story nest’ straw, iron rods

sparrows are inherently consumers of grain, and as such, early farmers had to protect their crops; this is how the scarecrow was born. the use of scarecrows to rid fields of crop destroying sparrows is considered to be the more civil approach, as at one point in history, there was a ‘kill the sparrow’ campaign launched to make sure they didn’t return. though the campaign was successful at saving the grain and rice fields, this meant that sparrows weren’t eating them, and the locust population ballooned and swarms of insects destroyed the fields anyways. now the sparrow is no longer considered to be the destroyer of rice fields, but is seen as an integral part of the area’s ecological balance. as we learn from nature’s mentors, the concept of ‘symbiosis’ can be seen vividly. taiwan is currently facing many agricultural changes, as certain types of materials and products are being removed from their areas. jenju village communities are promoting the symbiotic concept of peaceful coexistence with nature, encouraging us to return what we have expelled, so that nature can begin to produce and provide us with essentials once again.

for the preservation of the village’s rural culture and ideas concerning the environment, taiwanese designers gina hsu and nagaaki shaw have developed ‘rice straw design’ – a series of objects – in which the straw received from the fields is used by the community to promote the material itself, becoming a point of departure for use in arts and crafts. as part of the development and usage of this rice straw, a museum, as well as a DIY shop has been established so that visitors can experience the art and craft of working with the natural material.

the collection of objects includes: ‘straw stool’, ‘bird feeder’ and ‘story nest’.

gina hsu and nagaaki shaw: rice straw design ‘story nest’

trapped within the hustle and bustle of the urban jungle, most urbanites spend a lot of time during their day in search of a quiet corner to rest and escape the turbulent nature of the city. the ‘story nest’ is aimed at providing a private sitting room, much like a bird’s nest. the cradle-like sitting room is a good place to escape the everyday.

gina hsu and nagaaki shaw: rice straw design detail ‘story nest’

gina hsu and nagaaki shaw: rice straw design ‘bird feeder’ straw, bamboo strips, steel wire

rice and sparrows in nature have always had a sort of interdependent relationship, so the use of the jenju village community’s straw weaving techniques to produce this bird feeder seemed natural. this object means that between the busy city and one’s own house, small city sparrows may also have somewhere to go and become someone’s kind little neighbour.

gina hsu and nagaaki shaw: rice straw design ‘bird feeder’ variations

gina hsu and nagaaki shaw: rice straw design ‘bird feeder’

rice or grain products have advantages and disadvantages concerning its usages as a design material. one of the advantages of rice straw, rice bran or rice itself is that it is rich in texture. however, the major disadvantage of these materials is that they do not possess enough long-term durability. hsu and shaw have combined epoxy resin with the straw and rice to improve their resilience and durability so that the materials may serve a broader purpose and be transformed into items used in the home on a daily basis.

gina hsu and nagaaki shaw: rice straw design rice paddy fields