The Fungal Future —

How mycelium helps us rethink design


The recent Dutch Design Week saw the debut of “The Growing Pavilion,” constructed out of a variety of natural materials including fungal mycelium. We take a look at what the sustainable material means for the environment and the future of design.

The Growing Pavilion

Dezeen’s Augusta Pownall gives the run-down of The Growing Pavilion, a pop-up performance space that debuted at Dutch Design Week 2019 in Eindhoven. The drum-shaped building was also created to demonstrate the potential for bio-materials.

  • Creators: Set designer and artist Pascal Leboucq and Erik Klarenbeek’s Known Design studio. The two met three years ago when Klarenbeek and Leboucq began working with bio-based materials.

  • Construction: mushroom mycelium panels, timber frame, floors made of compressed cattail. Panels can be disassembled and repurposed later.

  • Features: Benches made from trees felled by a storm earlier in the year, furniture made from manure and clothes made from bio-materials.

  • Waterproof Coating: comes from a bio-based product originally developed by the Inca people of Mexico and imported from there, which Leboucq argues is a situation where an imported natural product can be better than a locally-made polluting product.

  • Safe for Consumption: Company New Heroes, a storytelling platform of which Lebouq is a member, helped schedule events including the daily harvesting of mushrooms growing on the panels. These were cooked and sold at a nearby food truck.

  • Carbon offset: The CO2-absorbing properties of mycelium offset the building’s carbon footprint by capturing twice its weight back in carbon dioxide.

What is mycelium

Mycelium is the massive branching network of thread-like hyphae that colonies of fungi use to breakdown organic material and absorb nutrients. In fact, that’s one of the most important aspects of their role in the ecosystem. Mycelium breaks down dead matter and puts the nutrients back into the environment.

Here are some of the properties that make it useful as a material:

  • Shapeable: mycelium is easy to grow into the shape of whatever mold it’s put in.

  • Strong: Relative to its weight, mycelium is stronger than concrete, giving it some potential for use in construction. It also kills and repels termites too.

  • Resistant: because has fire retardant properties that make it safer and more cost-effective than other materials that use synthetic polymers.

  • Easy to grow: it grows fast and on just about any waste product we feed it.

  • Insulator: it forms a foam-like material that can work as an insulator such as Greensulate.

  • Detoxifying: A lot of petroleum products and some pesticides are carbon-based molecules that fungi can potentially remove from the environment.

Taking More than We Give

In the past, we looked at how Econyl, a completely recyclable nylon fiber, has become one of fashion’s favorite synthetic fibers. Made from recovered ocean plastic, it represents a case where we’re making something “new” out of materials formed out of a problem humans have created, similar to bioplastic Bloom, which draws from the algae population that’s exploded with warmer climates.

It’s a scenario one where we try to take more harm out of the environment than we put back in. While that dynamic might not be perfectly efficient just yet, it shows we can always either create by using a product that’s no longer of use (waste products) or putting to use something that already occurs naturally, meaning it needs fewer resources to produce.

The Takeaway

We acknowledge we’re probably late to the party in recognizing the potential of mycelium, but it’s gotten us thinking about a future where the cities around us won’t necessarily be this idea of “perfected” space-age design. These buildings often come across as sterile with buildings of glass, porcelain-white panels, and metal. Instead, we could very well go in a radically opposite direction, one where the buildings around us are organic (or even living) because of our need to “use what we have” and create with materials that have always co-existed with our environment.