by Vince Nieto
Mycotecture is an interesting, yet for now, made up word. It has recently been coined by Philip Ross, a mycologist/artist, which he defines as “the use of mushrooms in a building” (SFGate). Many other thinkers have tinkered with the ideas of using mycelium, the vegetative part of a fungus grown from mushrooms, as a product for the built environment. Shipping companies who’s jumped on the sustainable packaging train have started to use mycelium as a substitute for Styrofoam. Even Architects and designers have proposed using Mycelium as an architectural product such as wall insulation because of its inherent dense properties and its natural high tolerance to fire.
Although Phillip Ross is not the first to play with Mycelium, he is however, one of the first to grow furniture grown out of Mycelium. He’s been recently featured at an art gallery in San Francisco for his experimentation of growing furniture made out of Mycelium.
Mycelium can be easily grown and directions can be quickly found on the internet. There’s many methods but it could all be narrowed down to a few simple steps. Gather sterilized mushrooms and some sort of feeder (wood, paper, cardboard, etc…). Combine the mushroom and the feeder in a sealable container, add water and watch it grow, like a Chia Pet but less attractive.
Phillip Ross can be onto something very ingenious. It becomes far more interesting when you start thinking about how his work of growing furniture and how it can be applied to a real life situation within an office environment. Designers such as MKThink do many interior projects with many large innovative companies. Can we as designers/thinkers propose a Mycelium furniture system that can somehow tie into the growth of a company? As the company grows in size can they also sustainably grow their own furniture to accommodate for that change? According to Phillip Ross, the process is fairly simple and the amount of space needed is very minimal.
Mycelium can have a very sustainable and cost effective life cycle. By growing mycelium in-house you can potentially save a large amount of energy used in harvesting, producing, and shipping, and as a result, save money. Since Mycelium is an organic material, the process of making and even disposing of this couild have a lower impact, if any, on the environment. Lastly, the life cycle of Mycelium wouldn’t have to end as a furniture product. Used Mycelium from offices can have a second and even third life serving other duties such as shipping foam or even as a product in a new building.
Another interesting idea to think about is how Mycelium grows and how it feeds. In Phillip Ross’s work, he uses saw dust to feed the mycelium. In a home-made video found online, this Mycelium enthusiast uses cardboard to help feed the Mycelium (Home-made Mycelium), others just use pieces of wood. There are many ways to feeding mycelium but when thinking about Mycelium within an office environment, one solution stands out. Offices print large amounts of documents daily in which a majority is thrown away. Can we somehow utilize unwanted documents to feed the Mycelium? We’ve seen companies use worms to eat through excess waste. Can we somehow use mycelium with a similar intent using shredded documents?
The use of Mycelium as a furniture product is very provocative and like many other privative ideas will have those who will reject. Many great products we use today have gone through the harsh criticism by those who fear change but Mycelium can have the potential to withstand the beating. This think piece was not meant to introduce a product nor a design idea but is more to invigorate the minds of designers to think outside the box.