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February 12, 2014 | 7 Comments

Mycotecture (Phil Ross)

From the curators: Phil Ross is an American artist and teacher interested in the experimental possibilities of fungal design and building materials, or mycotecture (“myco” from the Greek for fungus). His projects stem from an interest in the relationships between human beings, technology, and the greater living environment. His diverse experiences—as a chef, in hospice work, in plant husbandry—are all incorporated in a design methodology centered upon research and experimentation. For Mycotecture he grew building blocks from the fungus Ganoderma lucidum (also known as Reishi), a mushroom traditionally valued in Asia for its purported health benefits. Bags of sawdust are steam cooked for several hours in airtight bags, after which mushroom tissue is introduced into the bag, feeding on, digesting, and transforming the wood. The bricks are composed of the mushroom’s below-ground root-like network (mycelia), which makes them stronger, pound-for-pound, than concrete. The arch Ross constructed is ultimately intended to be part of a larger ongoing project that will result in an entire building grown out of fungal material.

The deep resonance of the forest harvesters was punctuated by the shrill pitch of wood meeting metal. Like pins in a music box, the machines cut their paths though the impenetrably dense jungle. If you listened in quiet meditation, as any life that could move fast enough made good its escape, you could hear the history of the forest. The space between trees became fleeting moments of rest in the score, the density of trunks singing out across the forest in the pitch of powerful motors transforming the jungle into valuable organic substrate.

This land was once worthless wilderness. The looming trees inadequate in size or quality to be worth the investment in infrastructure needed for the timber industry. The bushes and undergrowth too dense and interlocked to be tamed by slash-and-burn agriculture. Entirely unproductive.

Then the revolution arrived in the form of a new material of incredible strength and ecological value. In a warehouse, deep in the city’s suburbs, a small quantity of organic wood substrate was packed into an airtight bag and injected with fungal tissue. The hungry fungus eagerly devoured the substrate and transformed the contents of the bag into a mass of interlocking cells, slowly becoming denser, until it burst out, lacing the surface of its form with delicate fruit bodies.

A revolution is never easy. At first it was only the cranks, the experimenters and avant-garde architects building experimental homes. But they ran tests, fought campaigns, made speeches, calculated carbon taxes, drew charts and lobbied for new laws. And over time it became clear that the material was here to stay. It was sustainable and ecofriendly, those who used it paid less carbon tax. In China they even drank tea made from the mushroom bricks, tea that was claimed to promote health and strengthen the immune system.

The industry’s search for the organic wood substrate needed to grow this revolutionary material reached new heights. Insolvent nation states cashed in on their once worthless resources, prospectors hunted down any variable land, and investment poured into harvesting innovation.

Soon enough those few homes were joined by larger buildings, followed by pilot villages, towns and finally entire cities were built from these fungal bricks, spreading their fragile, amorphous forms far into the sky. The forests had finally infiltrated our cities.

 

Keywords:

Is this design in the service of nature or nature in the service of design?

  1. February 13, 2014, 9:28 pm

    raj sahai

    engineer & thinker

    This is the most radical idea I have seen in quite some time. We need such ideas if we are to survive as a specie. Industrialism brought forth by the 19th century industrial revolution has now lived past it’s useful life span and has degenerated, is threatening the very basis of human life on the planet; so new radical ideas are needed. This is definitely one of them. Artists are philosophers in other form than text, future resides in art. More power to you. – raj

  2. February 15, 2014, 4:35 pm

    filippo nassetti

    designer

    Are design and nature different, separated cathegories or is design an expression of a wider concept of nature?

  3. February 15, 2014, 11:10 pm

    […] Video on Mycotecture […]

  4. March 1, 2014, 3:12 am

    Maddie

    Designer

    I think that usually, design and nature are distinctly different categories. This project is brilliant though, because the outcome is symbiosis between nature and design. These mushroom bricks (produced through a process requiring minimal intervention from man) are stronger than concrete, lightweight, and can grow together to form a bond that requires no adhesive in-between bricks. Ross has discovered one of nature’s elegant solutions for building and the resulting Mycotecture is an innovation that reminds us that Nature will always be the best designer. The outcome is humble and authentic and does not mask the fact that the bricks are made from mushrooms, which calls attention to this incredible collaboration between nature and design.

  5. March 5, 2014, 1:52 pm

    Caroline

    Beautiful form, innovative solution

  6. March 6, 2014, 7:09 am

    Veronika

    Designer

    I had the pleasure of seeing some of these bricks in person at the New School gallery exhibition, “Intimate Science.” I feel that this is an example of nature in the service of design, because the pulp-eating fungi had already been doing that very action without intervention from man. Ross contained the eye that needed to see the solution that was in front of his feet in the forest. He then created a solution to harness this unbelievable, natural source of structure and rigidity- and still be lighter than concrete. What am I interested in seeing furthermore (and possibly at Ross’s Mycotecture talk in April) are if these fungi are geographically specific, and whether fungi from various parts of the world and mixed with different wood pulp, can grow to be stronger. And is there an inherent risk with transporting these if the need arises, by contaminating the ecosystem?

  7. May 14, 2014, 9:56 pm

    […] their online show Design and Violence with a critical response to the work of Phil Ross. We wrote a short fiction piece exploring a future world where Mycotecture becomes a favoured material and what its implications […]

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