As the population continues to grow past the earth’s ability to take care of them, many scholars are wondering how to lessen the damage we as a population have done to the earth. Climate change has been an issue for many years that people have chosen to ignore because they didn’t see it as a problem, but as the years have turned into decades the issue of climate change has continued to become increasingly more noticeable and more detrimental to not only the atmosphere of the planet but the overall health of everyone left behind.
Architectural Building Waste
One of the biggest issues that architecture plays in the increasing issue of climate change is the amount of building waste produced when creating and, more specifically, when demolishing an existing building. According to the United Nations Environment Program, over 40% of the world’s annual carbon dioxide Emissions are caused by building materials and construction. Researchers and scientists worldwide have become increasingly concerned about climate change and how architecture can do more to make the world a cleaner and better environment.
Mycelium Mushroom Bricks
Mycelium mushroom bricks are now being tested by engineers and have the potential to lower carbon emissions in the construction sector significantly, and when it comes time to demolish a building, they are also quickly biodegraded. Scientists and architectural researchers are now trying to make structures out of live fungi that can grow into the proper shape and self-heal when harmed. To make a mushroom ‘brick,’ mycelium is mixed with agricultural waste such as straw or corn husks. The fungus is then grown for about two weeks, long enough to fully colonise the straw, before being heated or chemically treated to kill it. At that point, it’s very similar to traditional brick, except it’s made of organic material rather than clay or concrete.
With a technology that is so new, many people need to be made aware of the implications of the material and its usefulness. One of the biggest precedents for the mycelium mushroom bricks debuted in 2014 in the courtyard of MoMA’s PS1 space in New York and was nicknamed Hy-Fi. The tower was designed as part of MoMA’s Young Architects Program by David Benjamin of New York architects The Living. Its construction uses innovative building materials: organic, biodegradable bricks made from farm waste and a culture of fungus grown to fit a brick-shaped mould. The temporary structure served as the centrepiece for MoMA’s Warm Up music festival throughout the summer of 2014, providing shade, seating, and water.
Hy-Fi is the first large-scale structure to employ this mushroom brick technology, based on a technique developed by Ecovative in 2007 and previously used only to make packaging. The bricks can be grown in 5 days and stacked to form a three-cylinder structure. The form is intended to draw breezes through the structure, further cooling the shaded interior. Instead of the steel moulds used to grow the bricks, the structure’s ‘bricks’ top layers are made. This is partly functional, reflecting more light into the structure. Still, it is also a subtle nod to New York City’s existing architecture, where low-rise red brick structures are towered over by glossy skyscrapers.
When the structure was demolished in September 2014, the mushroom bricks were composted, rejoining the carbon cycle. Once the bricks were composted, the soil went to various community gardens around New York. This structure has continued to serve as a reminder of what is possible through architecture. It has led to many other temporary structures that use mycelium mushroom bricks instead of normal clay or concrete bricks. One of the major problems with this material is that it is biodegradable and porous, so it does not last long in the elements due to absorbing water from the rain and then slowly deteriorating.
Mycelium Mushroom Brick Drawback
There are ways to counteract this naturally decaying process to mushroom bricks, but these countermeasures also eliminate the compostable aspects that came with the biodegradable material. Suppose the mycelium mushroom bricks are wanted to be used on the exterior of a building or structure for an extended amount of time. In that case, a sealant will need to be added to the bricks to help seal in the porous quality and keep the moisture from seeping into the bricks. There has been some research done to try and create a biodegradable sealant that can work with these bricks, but only a little has come from the research. So, many people are refraining from using this product on the exterior of their structures and are instead beginning to use them for sheathing or soundproofing.
Mycelium mushroom brick is just one of many new technologies that have begun to arise since the increased acknowledgement of climate change began. There is still a lot of research and testing that needs to be done on this product before it can be used widely. But this is a step in the right direction for architecture to begin to test and find new products and technologies that will help lessen the carbon footprint that architecture has created by building and demolishing structures worldwide. Climate change is not going to go away until, as a world population, everyone starts to try and play their part to lessen the stress we have put on this planet.
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