Over the years, designers and layfolk alike have been discovering 'new' eco-friendly materials to build or make things with, such as earth, bamboo, engineered woods and more. Add yet another surprising candidate to the list: fungi. Or more specifically, mycelium, the thread-like rooting mass that undergirds the spore-producing, "fruiting body" of the actual mushroom itself. So far, we've seen a number of designers experimenting with this fascinating living material.
Pushing that envelope further are German architect Dirk Hebel and Swiss engineer Philippe Block, who have created an impressive-looking self-supporting structure with mycelium. Dubbed MycoTree, the duo believe that with the right geometric configuration for optimal load-bearing, their technique could produce structures up to two-storeys high. Block explains on Dezeen:
We want to show that there might be alternative construction materials that don't get us in trouble with our world, but that needs to go together with some kind of designing. In order to show the potential of new alternative materials, particularly weak materials like mycelium, we need to get the geometry right. Then we can demonstrate something that can actually be very stable, through its form, rather than through the strength of the material.
Created for the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism, the structure consists of many custom-grown blocks of mycelium that are connected together via a system of digitally fabricated bamboo endplates and metallic rods. The way the structure is designed, it is the mycelium blocks that are the load-bearing element here, despite it being a "weak material," says Block:
You can actually use this weak material to build very neat spatial structures. If you use novel design techniques, you can make sure that every single component is kept together in compression. In this case, we contrasted something naturally grown and messy with high-end digital fabrication.
The blocks themselves are grown using a nutrient mix of sawdust and sugarcane. As the mushroom threads eat this mix and bulk up, they are then placed into molds, where they are grown further and shaped to the necessary forms. At the end of the process, the fungi thickens on its exterior, and is dehydrated to arrest its development, creating a grown building block. The process can take up to two weeks.
While it seems like a laborious process, there could be merit to this method. According to the team, the approach could be an alternative to building two-storey buildings, and rethink how we might incorporate these kinds of grown materials into modern architecture:
Utilising only mycelium and bamboo, the structure represents a provocative vision of how we may move beyond the mining of our construction materials from the earth’s crust to their cultivation and urban growth; how achieving stability through geometry rather than through material strength opens up the possibility of using weaker materials structurally and safely; and, ultimately, how regenerative resources in combination with informed structural design have the potential to propose an alternative to established, structural materials for a more sustainable building industry.
The team is now aiming to research different variations on the method, by examining how different fungal species and growing conditions might improve the material. While building with mycelium on a wide scale will likely be far off into the future, this prototype shows that it can work -- and look pretty cutting-edge at the same time. More over at Block Research Group.