Experimenting with mycelium


How is experimenting with mushroom mycelium ? Architect  Dirk Hebel and engineer Philippe Block have gone one step further – by using fungi to build self-supporting structures creating a tree-shaped structure consisting almost entirely of mycelium.

According to the duo, the material – which is formed from the root network of mushrooms – could provide the structure of a two-storey building, if it is designed with the right geometries.

“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,” explained Block.

“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.”

Hebel and Block are presenting the idea as part of the inaugural Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism, which opened this weekend in the South Korean capital.

Their installation, called MycoTree, consists of dozens of mycelium components that support one another in compression. These components are attached to one another with a system of bamboo endplates and metal dowels.

“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.”

To create the blocks, mushroom spores are combined with a food mix that includes sawdust and sugarcane. The fungi consumes the nutrients, so after a few days it begins to transform into a dense and spongy mass. It is then transferred into moulds, where it continues to densify.

Once it has fully developed, the mycelium will develop a thick skin that helps to protect it. After this, the material can be dehydrated to kill the organism and stop the growing process. It can then be used as a building block.

“It take two weeks to grow any form, any shape you would like,” said Hebel. “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.”

“We think this could be used to create a structural element that could replace, not necessarily high-rise buildings, but a lot of two-storey building structures,” said Hebel.

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