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Who torments the walls but tickles the taste-buds? What is hallucinogenic but also a super-food? Various fungi in the form of mould, mushroom and yeast fit into each bracket. Mould infests and decay walls; truffles constitute luxury-dining; psilocybin or psychedelic mushroom is a denigrated drug; and all edible mushrooms encompass health benefits. Irrespective of the bracket that one may categorise fungi into; the substance holds tremendous power. CQ speaks to three architects exploring its possibilities in creating sustainable shelter.
The Shell Mycelium Pavilion was a temporarily constructed installation that was created based on the nourishing and destroying powers of fungi. It illustrates the possibilities with temporary structures over permanent buildings that mushroom cities and civilisations. Beyond the accustomed dialogue and debates over sustainability, environmental concerns and expanding debris; the installation demonstrates through itself, the prospects that lie within exploring mycelium as a building material. The installation was constructed and unveiled at the Dutch Warehouse at Fort Kochi, Kochi Muziris Biennale 2016 Collateral.
The installation brings together a collaboration between Indian architect Asif Rahman of Beetles 3.3 (B3.3), Italian architect Giombattista Arredia and Lebanese architect Mohamad Yassin of Yassin Arredia Design (YAD). They met inventor-artist Philip Ross during their Masters’ programme in Barcelona, where he introduced them to using mushrooms with fast growing mycelia as building material.
Citing criticism over permanent architecture for temporary events, the trio conceptualised the ‘degradation movement manifesto’. It stresses the need to innovate upon biodegradable building practices, especially during events and for temporary requirements. The Olympics, Commonwealth Games, World-cups and similar events witness concrete construction at large scales which are later abandoned or demolished. The construction and demolition consume energy, resource and harm the environment. If the construction stays intact they take on the demeanour of ‘ghosts’, devoid of life and purpose.
Over this theory, the architects overlay another layer of sustainability. True sustainability follows the cycle of creation, death decomposition and regeneration. A permanent structure is not sustainable if it takes on a ghostly demeanour. Simply put, the trio wished to showcase a holistic material and construction that follows the lifecycle designed by nature; one that take shape, fulfils its functions and is demolished sans embodied energy or carbon footprint.
Prior to kick-starting the Kochi Biennale installation they developed bricks from mycelium and sawdust. Mycelium is the fungi’s vegetative part that proliferates and enables the fungus to spread. The developed bricks were heat and water resistant. They made small structures with these bricks– basic frames, arches and urban furniture. For the biennale they decided to take it to the next level. A shell structure was then designed and analysed using Rhino software. They devised a self-supporting structure of catenary arches made with triangulated frames in pinewood. These were connected with iron clamps. The frames had a tray like profile where plywood triangles were fixed from inside the structure. Coir pith, which is waste generated after coir is manufactured, was added in the tray. The frames were fastened to the ground using iron rods.
Mycelium was applied to the plywood and the structure was covered with palm leaves for 21 days prior to its opening. When shielded from sunlight, the mycelium grew and spread. And when the structure was finally unveiled, the top layer was exposed to sunlight, thereby it stopped regenerating. A protective shield was formed for the mycelium to feed on the wood underneath.
Initially, the audience were fascinated by the structure itself and space inside it. But, after the structure was exposed to sunlight, the mycelium ate into the wood and degraded the it. This took the focus from the form to its concept. Its precinct, the Dutch Warehouse is itself an example of a structure that remains a ghost, sans function. The degrading pavilion reflected the warehouse ruins; the only exception being that the pavilion would return to earth and perhaps even provide fodder to organisms or vegetation that would bloom in its place.
The structure has fulfilled its purpose and its entities have embarked on a new journey. The space can be reclaimed, reused or left as is. It is temporary in the soundest sense yet sustainable in terms of construction cost, energy and resources. It followed the natural dictum and cycle of life, death and regeneration. If nature designs life sustainably, shelters can surely follow its modus operandi.
The team is planning to conduct a workshop on the concept at Beirut in Lebanon next year. They are researching possibilities of building mycelium structures in high ranges .They also plan to build an eco-friendly structure using bamboo and mycelium in Munnar. Keep track of their work here!
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Indian architect Asif Rahman of Beetles 3.3 (B3.3), Italian architect Giombattista Arredia and Lebanese architect Mohamad Yassin of Yassin Arredia Design (YAD) explore possibilities of constructing temporary yet sustainable shelter with Mycelium.