Tallest mushroom tower in the world rises at NYC museum

Mushroom tower
© Margaret Badore

A new shelter is erected in the courtyard of MoMA PS1 each summer, providing shade and a visual focal point for the space’s outdoor summer events. This year, that structure was grown as much as it was built, from mushroom-based bricks. The tower was designed by David Benjamin of The Living, and is the largest structure to be built from mushroom materials to date.

Using a product created by Ecovative, the bricks are made from locally sourced fungi that grow on agricultural waste—corn stalks in this case. The title of the project, “Hy-Fi” is a reference to hyphae, the long branches of fungus that hold the bricks together. The structure will stand for just one summer, then the tower will be disassembled and the bricks will be composted.

bricks used in Hy-Fi at PS1© Margaret Badore. Inside the mushroom-based bricks.
“The material doesn't last forever,” Benjamin told TreeHugger. “This could be considered a limitation, but we like to think of this as a benefit. After the pavilion is disassembled, the material will not be sitting in a landfill for hundreds of years--instead, it will return to the earth within 60 days.”

Benjamin and his team approached Ecovative about using their materials at the beginning of the year, and took a factory tour. “I think they left really inspired,” said Sam Harrington, a product manager at Ecovative. “He came back to us a few weeks later with this very challenging but also very exciting design.”

Mushroom tower© Margaret Badore

Ecovative is perhaps best known for making biodegradable alternatives for environmentally harmful packing materials like expanded foam, and has more recently been developing building materials like insulation. “We're still a little ways out from producing these materials at scale,” said Harrington. “In the mean time, we’re excited to work on projects like Hy-Fi that allow us to create really impressive and cutting-edge uses of these materials.”

The properties of the mushroom bricks can be adjusted based on a number of factors, including the type of agricultural waste, the grow time, and the ratio of waste used. One of the challenges of the Hy-Fi project was a relatively short development cycle. “Normally we spend a lot more time refining the materials,” said Harrington. However, the team was ultimately able to create and test materials that could support the tower’s 40-foot-tall walls. About 10,000 bricks went into the structure.

Mushroom tower© Margaret Badore

The tower uses natural cooling techniques, with a wide base and a narrow opening at the pinnacle. “The shape of the structure draws in cool air in at the bottom and pushes out hot air at the top,” explained Benjamin. “This helps keep the space cool on hot summer days.”

If you visit PS1 in the coming months, you’ll notice the drop in temperature as you step inside Hy-Fi. “I was really impressed by how well it functioned, as far as the cooling tower effect,” said Harrington.

Mushroom tower© Margaret Badore

Aesthetically, Hy-Fi has an appealing sinuous shape that seems fitting for a building made with organic materials. The interior is dappled with light from little windows, which are formed by strategic spaces between the bricks.

“We were interested in creating a space that makes you stop and think,” said Benjamin. “We wanted to play with light, shadow, pattern, and texture of material in order to create a space that was alive and slowly shifting. We designed the shape from the inside out.”

Tallest mushroom tower in the world rises at NYC museum
Hy-Fi at MOMA PS1 is the biggest structure to be built from mushroom-based materials.

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