Model of stacked modules / exterior lattice
The brief was to design with modular in mind. Modular has been around for centuries and continues to be a popular source of inspiration for quick, efficient and cost effective design, and therefore construction.
Our minds quickly landed on the wall of a pre-fabricated module as our point of interest. We ended up designing a system which can be explained using its 4 main elements:
1) CLT exoskeletal structural lattice
2) Flexible mycelium leather as water barrier
3) Conventionally grown, dense mycelium for insulation
4) Interior water vapor barrier finishing coat
In sum, the wall system is an integrated one, combining the building’s structure (lattice) with both its aesthetic (exterior lattice and designed surface articulation of the mycelium insulation) and performance (insulation, shading and structure).
From the beginning of the semester mycelium was our material of focus. Standard building materials of today like concrete and steel are significant contributors to the building industry’s sizable environmental impact. In order to confront this issue, research into this new, unconventional material was our strategy. The mycelium of the fungus refers to the fragile root-like fibers which grow underground. When dried, the fibers become incredibly durable and resistant, not only to water, but also to mold and fire.
In order to understand the production and performative qualities of mycelium, we spent time growing, cultivating and experimenting with the material ourselves, as well as consuming the extensive research of others who shared our interest. We ended up exploring 2 different types of mycelium:
1) Introduction of mycelium inoculated grain to a substrate (in our case hemp, coffee grounds and sawdust) which was left to grow in a mold of our design. This produced the interior insulation panels. It is a dense mass of mycelium with excellent insulation and fire retardant properties.
2) An innovative process which produced mycelium ‘leather’ – a product which repels water and has a flexible plasticity to it allowing for it to be bent and wrapped. This was used for the water protection barrier between exterior and interior in our bio-performative wall system.
Mycelium grows underground or on/within substrates such as wood, in long thread-like shoots called hyphae. They can feed on low grade agricultural waste, sequestering carbon stored in biomass – this would otherwise be burned or composted, returning the carbon to the atmosphere. It grows quickly under conditions that are optimal (temperature and humidity levels for example) and is cheap to produce.
In terms of insulation, it is a natural fire repellent and is safer and healthier than most man made fire repellent materials. It is a highly effective thermal insulating product, outperforming most of the natural alternatives currently available on the market.
Of course, the durability of materials are extremely important when thinking about the life span and performance of a building. Mycelium is at least as durable as conventional materials and maintains its insulation properties over the course of the building’s life – to put it in perspective, the durability of conventional materials is an average of over 55 years. Furthermore, mycelium is a recyclable biomaterial; this means at the end of its performative life it can be re-introduced to the earth or into the next production cycle of mycelium.
In sum, the possibilities of mycelium in architecture are very promising. We were grateful for the existing and extensive research already done by other like-minded individuals, researchers and designers. Within a 3 month period the majority of our research and findings could only be speculative, but we hope that it might contribute to this body of work which seeks to push for a more circular and resilient environment. It is certainly a facet of research we both hope to continue exploring and hope to put to practical use in the real world one day.