Could the houses of the future be grown from mushrooms? Italian architectural firm Carlo Ratti Associati (CRA) broaches this question with The Circular Garden, a sustainable pavilion made of mushrooms that — true to the project name — was grown out of the soil in six weeks and will return back to the soil at the end of its lifecycle. Created in partnership with global energy company Eni, the mushroom structure was on display at Milan Design Week 2019’s Fuorisalone at Brera’s Orto Botanico, the city’s botanical garden.

pavilion in a garden

The Circular Garden is constructed from mycelium, the fibrous root of mushrooms, which was grown in the two months before the debut of the pavilion. With help from leading mycology experts, such as the Dutch Krown.Bio lab, CRA injected spores into organic material to start the growth process and then shaped the material into a series of 60 self-supporting, 4-meter-tall arches that add up to a record 1-kilometer-long mycelium. The design of self-supporting arches was inspired by the works of renowned Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, who famously used the “inverted catenary” method in his design of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

gray pavilion in botanical garden

people looking at gray arches

“Nature is a much smarter architect than us,” said Carlo Ratti, founding partner of CRA and director of the MIT Senseable City Lab. “As we continue our collective quest for a more responsive ‘living’ architecture, we will increasingly blur the boundaries between the worlds of the natural and the artificial. What if tomorrow we might be able to program matter to ‘grow a house’ like a plant? Milan’s amazing botanical garden, in the center of the city, seemed the ideal place for such an experiment.”

Related: Paris has a new underground — a massive farm for mushrooms and veggies

gray arches lit up at night

pavilion of gray arches lit up at night

Visitors are invited to explore the Circular Garden, whose arches form four architectural “open rooms” in the garden. While most temporary exhibition pavilions generate large amounts of waste, CRA’s pavilion is largely biodegradable and its elements will be reused; the mushrooms, ropes and wood chips that make up the structure will be shredded and returned to the earth, and the small metal elements will be recycled. The installation is part of the INTERNI Human Spaces exhibition and is open to the public from April 9 to 19, 2019.

+ Carlo Ratti Associati

Photography by Marco Beck Peccoz via Carlo Ratti Associati

circle of arches lit up at night