Mushrooms: the Future of Homebuilding?

Monday, 21 July 2014


The UK housing shortage is a hot topic at the moment. But while Brits bemoan the lack of building, an innovative architect in the US has found a cheap, sustainable new building material. Or perhaps that should be 'growing material'.

Hy-Fi, aka 'the mushroom tower', is a temporary urban shelter designed for MoMA PS1's Warm Up music festival. Its design is an intriguing mixture of power station cooling towers and urban tree stump; but the real innovation is the building material itself.

A fungus is both the brick and mortar in the Hy-Fi Project, brainchild of New York architects The Living and winner of this year's Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1 Young Architect's programme. Speaking to The Creators Project, architect David Benjamin explained:

'Mycelium, or §hyphae, which is basically a mushroom root, basically makes our bricks for us. It grows our bricks in about five days with no energy required, almost no carbon emissions, and it's using basically waste - agricultural byproducts, chopped up cornstalks. This mushroom root fuses together this biomass and makes solid bricks which we can kind of tune to be different properties."

So simply put, the fungus gobbles up farm waste and turns it into bricks. If you look closely at images of the towers, you'll spot shiny blocks at the top. These are the moulds (no pun intended) that the bricks are 'growing into'. What's more, they reflect light into the towers, bringing cool air into the bottom of the structure and creating a pleasant micro-climate.

As well as being cheap and quick to manufacture, these mushroom bricks are easily recycled. In fact, once they've finished with the Hi-Fy tower, The Living will compost it and use the mulch to feed community gardens and newly planted trees. So we can finally see a direct link between house building and growth.

Although we're not sure we're ready to offer home insurance on buildings that can quite so easily be returned to Mother Nature, these organic structures could be an excellent inspiration to UK house builders. After all, if Hy-Fi can hold out against a festival filled with partying New Yorkers, it can probably handle a bit of bad weather.


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