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INTERVIEW: Architect David Benjamin on Building The World’s First Mushroom Tower at PS1
You may have heard the riddle about mushrooms being the only rooms with no walls, but David Benjamin is flipping the script on the old joke with some incredible mycotecture built from mushroom bricks! The architect and his firm, The Living, are pushing the boundaries of design by experimenting with biotecture, blurring the lines between biology and built environments. Their latest efforts have culminated in the world’s first tower made from fungus, which debuted at MoMA PS1 in Queens, New York last week. We recently had the chance to pick Benjamin’s brain about the future of mycotecture (mushroom architecture), the benefits of biological buildings and what inspired this innovative new Hy-Fi tower in Queens. Read on to see what the biotect, innovator and director of the “Living Architecture Lab” at GSAPP has to say.
INHABITAT: Your awesome experimental mushroom-brick Hy Fy towers just opened at the MoMA’s PS1 museum in New York City. Is this the first large structure that you know of to be built almost entirely out of fungus?
DAVID: As far as we know, this is the first large structure made of agricultural byproducts and a mushroom root—or fungus—called mycelium. The project tests the viability of this new building material.
INHABITAT: How do you feel about the towers now that they are up?
DAVID: Great! We always imagined this project as an open-ended experiment, and we are already learning from it.
INHABITAT: How did you come up with the idea to use self-assembling bricks made of mycelium for the Hy-Fi tower?
DAVID: For a few years, we have been exploring the intersection of biology, design, and computing. And we have also been interested in buildings as complex ecosystems of ideas, materials, environments, technologies, and cultures. We have experimented with a variety of ways in which living biological systems can be used as bio computers or bio factories. Materials made from mycelium are a great, immediate example of all of these things—including the use of an organism to manufacture building materials, and the capacity of these building materials to engage the earth’s carbon cycle in a healthy way.
INHABITAT: Can you explain the process used to make the mycelium bricks? Are the only ingredients corn crop waste and mushroom roots or are there other substances added? How long does it take for one brick to form?
DAVID: We worked with the incredible start-up company Ecovative to produce mycelium bricks that are strong, durable, and water-resistant. The ingredients of the bricks are chopped-up corn stalks, hemp, and mycelium. They grow into solid objects in about five days with no added energy, and they can be composted at the end of the installation.
INHABITAT: Could this type of brick be used for more permanent structures as well, or is it best suited for temporary structures? Do you anticipate any issues with smell, moisture or degradation of the material over time?
DAVID: It’s possible to dial in different material properties of the bricks by changing variables like the ratio of ingredients, the growing time. This is the first large-scale outdoor structure made of this new material, and it will last for about three months. But it should be straightforward to tune the material for permanent structures.
INHABITAT: You run a design firm called “The Living”, which is really all about the intersection between biology and design. How did you get your start with this idea, creating what is essentially a new field of “Living Architecture”?
DAVID: We think buildings and cities are living, breathing organisms—and it makes sense for design to take advantage of this. We started by bringing architecture to life through digital sensors and actuators, but we are increasingly using biological technologies as well as digital technologies.
INHABITAT: What ideas can “Living Architecture” bring to the conservative and traditional building industry? Do you see any of your experimental ideas getting mainstream acceptance and widespread use in more traditional buildings like residences?
DAVID: I think the building industry is just about ready for these ideas. The benefits and possibilities are hard to resist.
INHABITAT: What are some of the advantages of using biological architecture techniques and building using organic substances and structures?
DAVID: Biological systems have amazing properties like adaptation, self-organization, self-healing, and regeneration. Imagine our buildings having the same properties. This would radically change the way we live.
INHABITAT: What can we expect from The Living in the near future?
DAVID: More experiments.
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