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Leaning on mycelium with the MycoTree

Researchers from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zürich designed the so-called MycoTree, a spatial branching structure made out of load-bearing mycelium components and bamboo.

Mycelium is the root network of mushrooms. The mycelium digests plant-based waste products, like sawdust, and forms a dense network that can act like a natural glue, binding the substrate into a spongy material composite. Mycelium is hailed for its sustainability, as products, packaging material and even clothing made from it can be composted after use. It can be grown locally, reducing the need for transportation. Another advantage of mycelium is that it can grow in a mould to take any desired shape.

Mycelium isn’t exactly known for its tensile strength, so to make a load bearing pillar, good geometry is essential. The researchers used 3D graphic statics to design the structure of the MycoTree, relying on mycelium’s compressive strength.

The pillar consists of triangular shaped mycelium building blocks, which are grown in digitally fabricated moulds. The ends of the blocks are covered with bamboo slates, and the blocks are attached by metal dowels, but it’s the mycelium that bears the load. The structure branches out, resembling a tree.

“[T]he structure represents a provocative vision of how we may move beyond the mining of our construction materials from the earth’s crust to their cultivation and urban growth,” the researchers say. “[H]ow achieving stability through geometry rather than through material strength opens up the possibility of using weaker materials structurally and safely; and, ultimately, how regenerative resources in combination with informed structural design have the potential to propose an alternative to established, structural materials for a more sustainable building industry.”

MycoTree is the result of a collaboration between the Professorship of Sustainable Construction at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the Block Research Group at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zürich. It was the centre piece of the “Beyond Mining – Urban Growth” exhibition at the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2017 in Seoul, Korea curated by Hyungmin Pai and Alejandro Zaera-Polo.

Photos: Carlina Teteris / Juney Lee