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.