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Mushroom Roots Used In Spatial Structure

Friday, September 8, 2017

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You might say it's a new idea that's set to mushroom in popularity: As part of a newly opened exhibit in Seoul, an international group of architects has presented its experimentation with living fungus as a structural element.

Designed and created by architect Dirk Hebel and engineer Philippe Block, the tree-shaped installation, known as the MycoTree, demonstrates that mycelium can be used in construction, if the material’s limitations are accounted for in design and execution. The building material can also be composted after original use.

The MycoTree

Like the mushroom root network material from which it’s made, the MycoTree spreads and branches out, a symbol for a hopeful future in using renewable materials in construction. While mycelium, which acts something like a natural glue, could not be used in high-rise buildings, it can stretch into two-story spaces, according to the creators.

"In order to show the potential of new alternative materials, particularly weak materials like mycelium, we need to get the geometry right,” Block said in an interview.

“Then we can demonstrate something that can actually be very stable, through its form, rather than through the strength of the material."

The support for the structure comes from the compression of individual building blocks being joined together. Each block is capped by bamboo endplates and metal dowels, but the mycelium itself is carrying the structure’s weight. In comparison to traditional building materials, such as concrete and steel that are reinforced to add strength, designing with geometry in mind allows for the use of weaker materials, such as mycelium.

Block emphasized that mycelium could be used to build “neat spatial structures.”

“If you use novel design techniques, you can make sure that every single component is kept together in compression," he added.

"In this case, we contrasted something naturally grown and messy with high-end digital fabrication."

Funky Fungi Building Blocks

Each building block takes around two weeks to create, in almost any shape imaginable—as long as there is a mold.

"It only needs a form, a little bit of biological residue and a little bit of knowhow, and then you can grow this in any place you can think of,” Hebel said.

Mushroom spores are blended with a food mixture consisting of sugarcane and saw dust. The fungi consumes the nutrients, gradually turning into a dense, spongy mass over the course of a few days. During this stage, molds are introduced.

A thick, protective skin coats the exterior of the block once the mycelium has developed. Once this has occurred, the material is dehydrated to kill the organism, which halts growing. In this state, it can be used in a structure.

Looking to contribute to the future of renewable construction materials, the creators of the MycoTree sent the templates to Mycotech, a mushroom farming company in Indonesia.

Moving forward, the team will continue experimenting with different combinations of different nutrient mixes and growing conditions. 

The structure was created for the inaugural Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism, which will run until Nov. 5.

Mycelium Monuments

In June, a student at Brunel University London used mushrooms in construction materials for the university’s Made in Brunel exhibition.
Aleksi Vesaluoma worked with London-based architectural firm Astudio to create “mushroom sausages”—a construction material that combines mycelium and cardboard—to make up his “Grown Structures” technique.


Tagged categories: Building materials; Construction; Eco-efficiency; Green building

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