Homes of the Future Will Be Built With This Unusual (and Sustainable!) Material
You'll see it sprouting up in renovations.
Published May 21, 2021 12:16 AM
There are mushroom-shaped lamps (like the groovy kind Urban Outfitters brought back), and then there are lamps made from mushrooms. Mycelium, the gauzy, vegetative part of a fungus that allows it to reproduce, is gaining momentum among furniture designers, textile fabricators, and even builders, who are using it to make everything from sustainable lighting to organic insulation. The byproduct is cultivated from the forest floor; combined with a sterilized substrate like sawdust, hemp, or hay (it binds to woody matter—anything with cellulose); and left to grow naturally in an isolated chamber. Then it’s chopped up to create a mulch-like material that can be packed and molded into just about any form. “There’s barely any water, no electricity, and no petroleum-based products used in the process,” explains Danielle Trofe, who grows ultrachic lampshades from mycelium using a licensed mixture from Ecovative, a company best known for its mushroom packaging technologies. “You’re letting the power of nature do the manufacturing for you.”
Artist Phil Ross is credited as the first person to use mycelium in architecture (he’d been experimenting with the material decades before he created his famous teahouse from reishi mushroom bricks at the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf) and later cofounded MycoWorks, which successfully started bringing mycelium “leather” goods to the market. People like Christopher Maurer, founder of architecture firm Redhouse in Cleveland, have followed in his footsteps. “It’s so easy to go to Home Depot and get this or that material, but there’s a huge environmental cost to that material,” says Maurer. While the product still has a long way to go before our houses are completely made of fungi, here’s a look at where it stands now in design, plus some small ways to bring the eco-friendly substance home.
Artist David Benjamin’s Hy-Fi structure, created for the courtyard of New York’s MoMA PS1 in 2017, was the first large-scale building to be made using biodegradable mushroom brick technology. While that tower wasn’t livable, Maurer’s team of architects is currently producing insulation panels on a small scale out of Cleveland. Some pros: The stuff is fire-resistant and sound blocking. It can also be grown using construction waste materials, like old wood, ceiling tiles, asphalt, and shingles, as the substrate. “Once they’re secreted, the mushroom can break down the oils and petrochemicals in those materials and actually turn it into food for itself,” he explains. Italian company Mogu is combining mycelium with resins that are compressed at a high temperature to create composite floor tiles, while Biohm, in the U.K., is developing VOC-free, air-purifying insulation panels that are intended to live behind drywall.
What if we said you could grow a coffee table faster than you could get one delivered? One like this 35-inch-wide piece made using Ecovative’s Grown.bio DIY kit takes five days to grow and two days to dry, according to the company.
British designer Sebastian Cox turned to mycelium to make stools and pendant lamps after working heavily with recycled wood. “I’ve always felt dissatisfied with combining this incredibly sustainable material with even the greenest of bioplastics,” he says, which is why he’s been partnering the salvaged timber with mycelium. Once he’s got the molds just right, the mushroom-based pieces are dehydrated so they don’t continue to sprout.
With the raw material she purchases from Ecovative, Trofe makes large pendant lights out of her studio in Brooklyn’s Industry City. The 130 lampshades she grew from scratch can be seen inside the Riverside Suite at 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge. Her smaller fixtures take about five days to cultivate, while the larger 24-inch-diameter domes usually require a full week. Then they’re dried out with fans and baked in an oven. “They almost feel like a lamb’s ear,” says Trofe of the ultrasoft texture. They’re also lightweight (the biggest pieces coming in under 10 pounds).
Objects and Decor
It’s highly likely that one day your leather living room sofa will be upholstered in mushroom leather. A company called Bolt Threads sells its revolutionary Mylo material (it’s embossed to look like the real deal) to fashion companies such as Lululemon and Stella McCartney right now, but home collaborations are on the horizon.
Paris-based designer Miriam Josi’s Play Vases are an easy way to bring mycelium into your home today. The vessels are bound by perforated mycelium shapes and can be assembled and combined in a variety of ways (they’re inspired by children’s building blocks). Let’s just say they’re growing on us.
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