Another day means another opportunity to write about how awesome mushrooms are. The reasons why they are so great are numerous and in the current context, in which the degradation of our planet urgently calls for more sustainable solutions, they prove themselves to be a too-good-to-be-true alternative. In today’s report I will talk about and try to shed a light on the building properties of mycelium.
Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus or any similar fungus bacterial colony. They grow beneath the ground and consist in frost looking and thread like hyphae. It is through this part that the fungi absorb the nutrients from the environment. Mycelium is indispensable in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems because it breaking down dead organic matter, thus being nature’s recyclers. Also, for the ones who don’t know already, the mushrooms that we use in cuisine are the fruiting bodies of this mycelium. Funnily enough, apparently, humans share more than half of their DNA with fungi.
An authority in the domain of the building properties of mycelium is artist and fungo-enthusiast Phillip Ross, In the beginning he saw mycelium just as an art material and that idea pushed him to make furniture or using it in art installations. He also made mycelium bricks and built an arch that could be the promoter of some of the ideas of using fungus as building material.
Another similar company is Ecovative, which aims to develop multiple uses for mycelium, like packaging or construction bricks. Into making this material they combine agricultural byproducts such as corn stalks, rice hulls or chopped up plant stalks, with fungal mycelium, which works as a “self-assembling binder”. Basically, the fungus makes a hard polymer that’s like plastic, binding everything together. Thus, in 2013, they built a little house, their first structure grown entirely out of using their fungus material. The chopped substrate is placed between two pine boards and then colonized by the fungus –this serves as insulation, and the structure of the little building.. Over the course of a month it dries naturally and becomes dormant. The only way it can fruit is due to improper construction, through gaps, but can be easily trimmed off before it produces fruitbodies. The house was built on top of a trailer, for mobility, it is equipped with acoustic panels to reduce the noise inside and is very fire resistant.
In 2014, the architecture firm called “The Living” created, for MoMA PS1’s Young Architect Program, a completely organic and compostable building which they named Hi-fi, referencing the hyphae. They manufactured bricks with the same principles as Ecovative, taking the idea from them. After researching and testing, they came to the conclusion it will be safe to build a 40-feet into the air construction with 10,000 bricks. Moreover, durability tests on the bricks proved them to be very resistant.
In conclusion, this new technology, even though in need of further research, proves itself to be very promising, especially when the main source is a natural one, with little carbon footprint. Until it becomes main-stream, we can only hope that the way we think architecture will be revolutionized with these innovations.
A report by Ioana Popescu