26 June, 2017
Concrete Alternative
Designer Aleksi Vesaluoma

Move over concrete—there’s a new building material in town, and it’s edible.

What if we told you that there’s a carbon neutral, decomposable alternative to packaging, insulation and construction materials, and that you can eat it? London’s Brunel University student Aleksi Vesaluoma and architecture firm Astudio have created the “Grown Structures” series using mycelium.

Marvellous magical mushrooms
Mycelium (meaning “more than one”) is the vegetative part of fungus that consists of fine, thread-like branches. These grow into a weblike network, and mushrooms are the “fruit” of mycelium. It is sentient, and will grow different networks if one is disrupted. When dried, it can be made into a water- and fire-resistant building material that is stronger than concrete, pound-for-pound.

It is said that the largest living organism on Earth is a mycelium in Oregon, US, at over 2,000 acres, 2,000 years old, and one cell wall thick. To put this size in perspective, a strand of hair is around 75,000 nanometers in diameter. One cell wall is between 20–80 nm thick.

Vesaluoma mixed the mycelium material with cardboard and shaped it into "mushroom sausages”. The bandaged tubes were then placed in a ventilated greenhouse over a mould and left to grow for about month. This process sticks together like glue and could be used to create "mycotecture", such as pop-up shops, which can be returned to the earth for natural recycling. Vesaluoma also envisages a restaurants that serves—you guessed it—mushroom-based cuisine.

"Mycelium materials are beneficial to us and the environment as well as just being really cool. They're another great example of why we need to trust the intelligence of nature in helping us create more regenerative systems of manufacture".

Mycelium is becoming more widely recognised by designers as a useful material. In 2013, Eric Klarenbeek used it to create a 3D-printed chair for Dutch Design Week to show the possibilities of printing with living organisms. Even then, the designer said that the technique could be used to create bigger and more complex structures, as envisaged by Vesaluoma.

Making mycotecture mainstream
In 2014, David Benjamin of the NY-based architects The Living created a 100 per cent organic “Hy-Fi” tower grown from agricultural waste in the courtyard of New York's MoMA PS1 Gallery. The design won the annual Young Architects Program (YAP) competition, which fosters innovative designs that address sustainability and environmental issues.

"Exploring the structural potentials of mycelium materials could help in shaping a future where architecture is grown from bottom-up rather than consuming resources and creating waste," said Vesaluoma.

Amsterdam designer Maurizio Montalti declared mycelium as a promising kick-starter for a "biotechnological revolution”, but Vesaluoma believes that this new miracle material has a long way to go before being considered mainstream.

"Right now the main factors holding back the mass-commercialisation of mycelium materials are people's pre-assumptions, as well as the power of the profit-driven materials industry", explained the young designer.

An exhibition of the five MoMA PS1 Young Architects Program 2017 finalists' projects will be on view at The Museum of Modern Art from July 1 to September 4, 2017.

Check out the work of Aleksi Vesaluoma and other designers and artists at the Mandin website.

By: Adriane Rysz


Be the first to comment on this Article

Popular content