"We are a group of University of Liverpool Master of Architecture graduates and we recently completed our thesis project which is focusing on mycelium and its potential as a sustainable material for the construction industry.
Our project endeavours to create a testbed for exploration of different mycelium applications. The proposal is a catalyst to encourage the current construction industries to re-think the way buildings are made and allow the collaboration between the innovators, fabricators, communities and the public. The primary typology and the programme of the project is a mycelium research and innovation facility with a cleaner production line, providing access to the public and local communities for education and spread of knowledge of mycelium.
Due to material’s ability to remediate toxic soils, there was a possibility to select a brownfield site that was contaminated as a result of chemical industry, or a landfill site, which contained pollutants negatively affecting the soils. Presence of contaminants was crucial for the project to take the present direction. Wigg Island proved to be the ideal location for the proposed thesis project due to the number of factors: the area was used as an industrial and chemical production site from 19th to 20th Century, and in the early 70s became a construction and demolition waste landfill. Located in Runcorn, North West of the UK, the site was partially redeveloped to what is now known as Wigg Island Community Park. Construction works are present on site since 2014 since the Mersey Gateway bridge project started taking place. The east side of the island is currently used as a landfill site.
The programmatic response of the project consists of three levels:Decontamination:The proposal introduces movable mycoremediation laboratories for sustainable bioremediation of the site, which, in turn, initiates the restoration of the toxic, brownfield site.Innovation:
The exploration into mycelium-based materials is approached through both scientific research and artistic innovation, allowing a collaboration between various disciplines and creating a new typology of research.Education:
The proposal includes an educational programme, allowing the spread of knowledge across existing industries and the public.
The final proposal aims to demonstrate the various structures created to suit the design functionality. The site section (see attached) shows the connection between each individually designed building, which creates a journey. This architectural journey within the site allows the public to experience the presence of mycelium as a construction material. Individual buildings are celebrated to showcase the structural potential of this particular material that is manifested throughout the site.
As part of our project, we have also experimented with mycelium, where we tried to produce structural block samples using mycelium spawn on grain and various types of agro-waste, such as sawdust, wood chips, and straw."
Q: What first sparked your interest in the realm of mycology?
A: The topic of sustainable architecture has never been so important as it is today and felt the need to address the problems of current buildings’ life-cycle. Nowadays, the process of material production is rapidly consuming non-renewable sources of our planet, and the construction waste has negative effects that we have to start taking responsibility for.
Mycelium opened up a way for the materials to not only be sustainable but also affordable and readily available in almost every part of the world. This technology repurposes and re-uses agricultural waste and is biodegradable and compostable after the end of building use.
Humans have wrought great changes to the environment in their comparatively short time on the planet. As hunters and gatherers 200 000 years ago we went on to master agriculture and animal husbandry, which lead to the birth of cities. Through the Industrial Revolution, we learned to exploit the embodied energy of fossil fuels like coal and oil, which enabled an even bigger expansion. Humans have consistently exploited nature, and today we live in a world of massive consumption and have arguably become a force over nature, inflicting extremely detrimental impacts on the landscape and environment wherever we go. Our impact on the environment occurs on a global scale and with such a speed that every day 200 species go extinct. This cannot be sustained.
Q: What exactly are you researching/working on?
A: In our thesis, the old landfill site at Wigg Island is used as a testbed for researching into mycoremediation and exploration of different applications of mycelium. This is explored as a catalyst to encourage the current construction industries to re-think the way buildings are made and to re-imagine the way the economy might run, holistically allowing the collaboration between innovators, fabricators, communities and the public. The brief of the site aims to retain the industrial identity of the area, but to invert its historically destructive character and to re-invent it into creating a manufacturing process which simultaneously decontaminates the site and manufactures sustainable materials. It sounds improbable that such a positive system might work, but the evidence is growing.
Q: What is the purpose of your research/work?
A: Our project aimed to research the physical properties of mycelium and define a new aesthetic quality of architectural language that is influenced by the nature of the material. Responding to mycelium properties, different applications of the material are explored through a design of a mycelium remediation, research and innovation facility with a cleaner production line, providing access to the public and local communities for education and spread of knowledge of mycelium. Our thesis strives to showcase the vast range of applications of mycelium technology and demonstrate possibilities for a cleaner and more sustainable construction industry.
Q: What do you like most about working with mushrooms/mycelium?
A: We enjoy the process of exploring this innovative material, where the more you research, the more diverse applications to it you discover. It has been fascinating to grow our own material samples and learn from our own mistakes and successes. It was amazing to find out how easy it is to grow mycelium even without proper lab conditions, which proves the versatility of this technology and is something that can be addressed at a larger scale.
Furthermore, spreading the knowledge felt empowering and, although mycelium-based construction is not widely accepted and common just yet, we felt like it can change a lot in the near future.
Working with mycelium opened up many great opportunities for us as architecture professionals and allowed us to share ideas and findings with likeminded people. We got a unique chance to work with an architectural scientist and researcher Mae-ling Lokko at the Liverpool Biennial, where she created an architectural pavilion made from mycelium panels. We participated in workshops organised by Mae-ling, which allowed us to take our thesis project into real life and gave us a chance to demonstrate that this technology is actively researched into and has real ground.