In the summer of 2014 a strange building began to take shape just outside the MoMa, the contemporary art museum in New York. It looked like someone had started building an igloo and then got carried away, so that the ice-white bricks rose into huge towers. An astonishing sight, but what was truly impressive about this building was not so much its appearance, but the fact that it had “grown”.
The installation, called Hy-Fi, was conceived and created by The Living, an architectural design firm in New York. Each of the 10,000 bricks was made by packing agricultural waste and mycelium, the vegetative apparatus that produces the mushrooms, into a mold and letting them grow into a solid mass.
From this monument was born the idea of Phil Ayres, del Centre for Information Technology and Architecture in Copenhagen: with his colleagues he started the FUNGAR project to explore what types of new buildings we could build with mushrooms.
Buildings and constructions are responsible for 39% of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions and as many as 21% of these emissions come from the production of steel and cement alone. The construction also uses large amounts of natural resources, such as sand, one of the main ingredients of concrete. It is currently a profitable commodity and controlled in some parts of the world by real criminal organizations and stolen by the cargo of the islands.
Those problems are set to worsen over the next few decades as the world’s population grows faster and gets richer. We will need a lot more homes. And mushrooms can help us with that.
Mycologist Han Wosten of Utrecht University in the Netherlands states that “Fungi are not CO2 consumers like plants are. They need to digest food and thus produce carbon dioxide, like animals do. However, the organic waste streams (such as straw or other low-value agricultural waste) that the fungi digest would still be degraded into CO2, either by composting or by burning. In addition, the bricks of the fungi permanently fix some of that waste in them and thus act as a carbon store. All of this makes mushroom-based buildings a win for the climate and certainly better than using concrete, steel and brick ”.
The FUNGAR project team combined mycelium, the ‘roots’ of mushrooms, with agricultural waste such as straw. Then he let the mushrooms grow for about two weeks, until the fungus colonized the straw, producing a whitish foam-like material. The material produced was then heat treated to kill the organism (it can also be processed, by applying coatings or by crushing it).
Varying the type of fungi, agricultural residues and growing conditions and the post-processing, the professor. Wosten says all kinds of building materials with different mechanical properties are being obtained. “It is very early to start saying that our house will be made entirely of mushrooms”, Ayres said. But parts of it may already be. Mogu, a company based near Milan, and partner of the Fungar project, already produces and sells sound-absorbing floor and wall coverings based on mycelium foam.
But what are the advantages? There are two, main ones. First, the living fungus could behave like a self-healing material, simply growing back if damaged. Second, mycelium networks are capable of processing information. Electrical signals go through them and change over time in an almost brain-like way. “We have found that fungal materials respond to tactile stimulation and illumination by changing their patterns of electrical activity” said prof. Andrew Adamatz at the University of the West of England a Bristol.
Building with living mycelium will be a great challenge. The next big goal of the Fungar project is to build a small independent building. The team plans to do this within a year, and then focus on monitoring as it ages.
But what happened to Hy-Fi, the igloo-like structure in New York? The answer is one of the nicest things about buildings made with mushrooms. No demolition or slow decay, the structure was dismantled and composted.
This is the future!
Research taken from Horizon Magazine, the innovation and research portal of the European Union
Source: Il Blog di Beppe Grillo by beppegrillo.it.
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