PLP Labs, the research arm of London-based PLP Architecture, has been experimenting with mycelium bio-composites as a sustainable alternative to traditional building materials. While fungi-based materials have been used in packaging and even to create synthetic leather, few have studied mycelium's structural properties, a working knowledge of which would facilitate its uptake in architecture. PLP Labs thus took up the challenge.
Through a series of lab experiments, the researchers discovered "a way to combine the ingenuity of engineering with the natural characteristics of fungi by bonding mycelium and 3D printed wood shells," they write. "This technique moulds mycelium in an infinite number of configurations with a high level of precision."
The team created 3D-printed wooden formworks, which were then loaded with hemp a a substrate. (The team notes that straw, wood chips and sawdust, typically waste products for other industries, can also be used.) This substrate, inoculated with mycelium, then starts to grow, taking the shape of its vessel.
It's not as fast as concrete, though it is magnitudes of order more sustainable. To create a series of 84 blocks for an exhibition, the team spent several weeks allowing the mycelium to grow, then subjected it to a drying process to arrest all further growth. The mycelium forms, thus rendered inert, can be removed from their forms and used.
"We found mycelium to be a versatile material for a variety of architectural applications. Unlike concrete and steel, mycelium bio-composites are renewable and biodegradable. They can be grown and harvested with minimal environmental impact. They possess excellent acoustic and thermal properties. They are also lightweight, fire-resistant, and have good insulation properties."
The blocks were recently displayed at Clerkenwell Design Week. PLP Labs presents them as a component that can be used by designers to usher in the Symbiocene era—"a period of re-integration between humans and nature," which they reckon will succeed the Anthropocene, the era of man, that we're currently living in.
You can get a look at PLP Labs' approach in the video below.
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