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Biophilia. Could Mushroom Buildings Be the Next Step in Architecture and Biophilic Design?

Sustainable Mushroom Building,  Designed by David Benjamin of New York architects The Living, Kris Graves/MoMa
Sustainable Mushroom Building,  Designed by David Benjamin of New York architects The Living, Kris Graves/MoMa

As Biophilic Design develops and grows, we are slowly learning about all the new possibilities and approaches we can use within design both architecturally and interiorly. One new design approach we have recently come across is the idea of mushroom buildings and using Mycelium as a new design material within architecture. Especially since fungi is such a natural and organic material that would be great to start incorporating in to design.

Oyster Mushroom mycelium in Petri dish on coffee grounds by Tobi Kellner
Oyster Mushroom mycelium in Petri dish on coffee grounds by Tobi Kellner

 

We can pretty much find fungi everywhere. It can be found in the trees, in the water, even in our bodies, in the air or even the ceiling of our bathrooms or underground. Everyone more commonly knows fungi as mushrooms (medicinal, poisonous, edible or hallucinogenic) or you can even find fungi in its simplest form such as mould. Although, fungi can trigger illnesses, they do have many benefits such as helping fermentation of cheeses and breads, to even producing antibiotic remedies like penicillin. These are all great benefits and uses of fungi, but could fungi be developed further and used as a building material or the answer to sustainable packaging.

 

Photography: Courtesy of Yasmine Nemei.
Photography: Courtesy of Yasmine Nemei.

Did you know that fungi are nature’s main recyclers, as they produce enzymes that can help with the degradation of organic material and transforming it into minerals? The optimum growing conditions for fungi are shaded humid environments. Although the visible portion of fungus can be deceptive and actually only represents a small fraction of it size.  Deep down below the surface a mushroom develops a long thread like roots knows as mycelium. Mycelium can be made up of very thin white filaments which develop in all directions and can form a rapid growing web that is very complex. So, when the fungus is imbedded into a suitable environment, the mycelium acts like glue, sticking the substrate and transforming it into a solid block. This substrate can be made up of lots of different materials like straw, groundwood, sawdust or numerous agricultural remains and may have gone to ground waste, but now can be used as a sustainable eco material.

Ecovative Mushroom® Insulation . Image Cortesia de Ecovative
Ecovative Mushroom® Insulation . Image Cortesia de Ecovative

Depending on the form of the mycelium and the substrate used, the final products can be moulded and formed to produce many things such as: packaging materials, accessories, fabrics, furniture, insulating materials and even bricks, as they have good thermal and acoustic attributes and strong fire performance.

Hy-Fi by The Living. Photo: Andrew Nunes
Hy-Fi by The Living. Photo: Andrew Nunes

The company Ecovative Design are innovators of mycelium- based design and using this unconventional material to create objects such as packaging. In order for them to be able to produce these items, the substrate is combined in a solution and inserted into moulds. After about 5 days of growth in optimum conditions (suitable temperature, light and humidity) the material can be solidified into the desired shape. This desired piece then goes into an oven where it completely deactivates the microorganisms which are present, allowing for it to then be used as everyday packaging. Here are some companies that use this type of packaging; Dell and Ikea. The great thing about all of this packaging is that it is biodegradable and great for the environment.

How to make a Mycelium Brick

In 2014, a pavilion was built in the courtyard at Moma in New York. This was designed by The Living Studio, who worked in collaboration with Ecovative Design Company to come up with the Hy-Fi Project. This went on to win MoMa’s young architects programme. With the structural advice from ARUP’S, mycelium bricks were developed, these grew within less than a week in moulds from the residue of chopped corn stalks. When these were constructed, the bricks created a tower that was 12 meters high. When the exhibition came to an end the tower that had been built was disassembled and the bricks were taken to composters due to their natural biodegradability.

 

 

Hy-Fi by The Living. Photo: Andrew Nunes
Hy-Fi by The Living. Photo: Andrew Nunes

The Circular Garden

carlo ratti unveils architectural structures made of mushrooms for milan design week
Carlo Ratti unveils architectural structures made of mushrooms for milan design week 

At Milan design week, Carlo Ratti Associate worked in collaboration with the energy company Eni, to create an architectural structure that was made out of mushrooms. They created ‘the circular garden’ which was a series of arches created by 1km of mycelium, where the fungus was infused into an organic material to start the process of growth. Although many pavilions that are used as temporary displays in exhibition’s usually create large amounts of waste, but Jardim Circular kept to a more sustainable approach with his wood chips, constative mushrooms and ropes which all returned to the ground at the end. The shell mycelium pavilion was made in collaboration with Yassin Areddia Designs and BEETLES 3.3. this pavilion demonstrated alternative eco conscious design through temporary structures. The wooden structure was concealed with coconut marrow that contained a fungus. The mycelium then began to grow and formed a snow cover over the structure.  But the upper layer of growth died and hardened due to the lack of sunlight but formed a shell to protect the lower layers.

 

Carlo Ratti grows Gaudí-inspired structures with a kilometre of mushroom mycelium

 

Carlo Ratti grows Gaudí-inspired structures with a kilometre of mushroom mycelium

 

Further Structures

Ecovative Mushroom® Insulation . Image Cortesia de Ecovative
Ecovative Mushroom® Insulation . Image Cortesia de Ecovative

Mycelium can be used for architectural structures, but it also has many other potentials such as the use of acoustic and thermal insulation. This was discovered through another initiative by Ecovative where live mushrooms are packaged between wooden panels to form an effective insulating wall. It takes about three days for the mycelium to grow and solidify to create an airtight insulation. Which is very similar to a structural insulating panel but without the thermal bridges.

Mycelium captures CO2 as it grows. | @biobased.creations
Mycelium captures CO2 as it grows. | @biobased.creations

In conclusion, we have discussed some great examples for the use of mycelium but there is still so much more potential for it. Mycelium has shown the shift we need to make in design through the way we approach disposable construction materials. The best thing about mycelium is that it is 100% biodegradable and large quantities can be found across the world from agricultural and natural growing waste.

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