For the next few months, visitors to the MoMA PS1 gallery in Queens, New York can see a temporary pavilion, the Hy-Fi tower. Designed by architect David Benjamin from New York based firm “The Living”, the structure’s astonishing form- circular towers that split and merge as they rise- was developed using state-of-the-art computer programs. However, the most impressive and revolutionary part of the design lies in its materials. The structure is comprised of ten thousand bricks grown using mushrooms.
Most people are only familiar with the fruiting bodies of mushrooms, the toadstools that we eat in salads or on pizzas, but they’re only the tip of the fungal iceberg. Underground is a thick matrix of “roots”- the mycelium. This mycelium is what makes up the bricks of the Hy-Fi tower. David Benjamin was inspired to take this approach by the products of the company Ecovative. Ecovative creates mushroom-based packaging by growing mycelium in a mold, so the tough matrix forms into the desired shape. The molded mycelium is then heat-treated to halt growth and spore production.
The bricks themselves were designed by Arup Engineering. Different processes and types of mycelium were used to create bricks of varying density and strength for different parts of the structure. The strongest of the bricks can withstand a load of several tons. Therefore, all sorts of structures can be built with these bricks, including the complex vault at the center of the Hy-Fi tower.
I think these bricks are a wonderful innovation, and I think they could become widespread in a few years. According to the David Benjamin, the bricks are highly sustainable. The process used to create them produces no waste or carbon emissions, and after use they are recyclable or compostable. The bricks are also efficient to create. They can be grown and finished in five days and, while neither Arup nor Benjamin clarify the cost of the bricks, Ecovative says the cost of its products are equal to those of petroleum-based packaging, like styrofoam.
While I would certainly love to see these bricks used more often in mainstream buildings, I think that they would be most useful for humanitarian purposes, like housing in developing countries and especially for temporary shelters after disasters. They are quick to create (compare the five day process to the many years it takes to grow trees for wood) and cheap, while their biodegradability makes them ideal for temporary structures. I really hope that Arup, Benjamin, and possibly Ecovative make efforts to expand their usage.
The Hy-Fi Tower (from press.moma.com)
A close-up of the tower’s bricks (from arupconnect.com)
Inside the tower (from arupconnect.com)
The growing mycelium matrix (from ecovativedesign.com)
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