Mycotecture, Building with Bricks from Fungi and Organic Waste
Solutions such as the Biocycler or Biohab can transform organic waste into bricks using mushroom mycelium, and NASA is already interested.
Architect Christopher Maurer is passionate about mushrooms, but not in terms of their culinary applications, more about the architectural potential. He is convinced that the use of mycelium, i.e., the filaments that mushrooms use as roots, is one of the keys. It is a fireproof material, resistant to mold and water, and can reach a higher hardness than concrete at the same weight. Although slower than that of other construction solutions such as concrete, its manufacturing process is relatively simple. It is sufficient to inject the living mycelium into an organic substrate to grow and take the desired shape. Then, after a heat treatment to interrupt growth, it hardens and is ready for use. The substrate can also be created from all kinds of waste, from agricultural waste to materials from demolition sites. And that's not all: the mycelium can take any shape depending on the mold chosen.
Maurer is not the only staunch advocate of a discipline that could be called mycotecture. Another example is the Hy-Fi tower, designed by architect David Benjamin. The structure was built from 10,000 mycelium bricks as part of a demonstration at MoMa, New York's museum of modern art. However, Maurer is moving on to more advanced concepts in sustainable architecture.
Biocycler, a portable machine for producing mycelium bricks
We recently talked about Trashpresso, a plastic recycling machine on wheels that produces building slabs and has traveled as far as the Himalayan peaks. However, it is not the only portable system that uses waste to generate building materials. Biocycler is based on a similar concept, although instead of producing plastic materials, it creates mycelium bricks. The primary raw material is wood and cellulose-based waste from construction.
The Biocycler is a portable container that can be moved to any waste-rich location. The machine processes the wood, removes varnishes and other chemicals, and finally produces the mycelium bricks. For now, its first structure is a city with 500,000 inhabitants. But not humans; instead, it will house a colony of bees.
Biohab, mycotecture in Namibia
Another of their projects is Biohab, created in collaboration with MIT. Although the philosophy is similar, the approach is slightly different. Instead of using construction waste, this machine uses invasive shrubs such as Acacia mellifera. The shrubs are processed on-site, and, in addition to producing bricks for house construction, edible mushrooms are obtained. Along with bricks and mushrooms, fuel and animal feed can also be made. The pilot project took place in Namibia, a region where the Acacia mellifera is very common and at the same time is in dire need of low-priced building materials.
From MIT to NASA
However, if there is one place with difficult access to building materials, it is Mars. Thus, these projects focused on the use of fungi have aroused NASA's interest, which considers mycotecture as a viable alternative for building housing solutions on other planets. The U.S. agency is funding a project based on sending algae and fungal spores to the red planet. Once there, thanks to the existing water in the subsoil, algae growth could be stimulated. Subsequently, the mycelium would feed on this organic matter to produce the necessary bricks or modules. The goal is to send humans there by 2030, so the race to design new architectural solutions for Mars is already underway.
Source: Construct Connect