Mycologist Philip Ross is interested in mushrooms since the late 1980s, when he worked in hospice care and patients would drink reishi tea to strengthen their immune systems. Now, he uses fungi not in omelette but as building material. Beneath the surface of the ground, fungi form a wide network of thin, root-like fibers called mycelium. Ross discovered that when mycelium dried, it can be used to form a super-strong, water-, mold- and fire-resistant building material. The dried mycelium can be grown and formed into just about any shape, and it has a remarkable consistency that makes it stronger, pound for pound, than concrete.
“I want to demonstrate how you can create this kind of fabrication using local agricultural waste,” Ross told Food Republic regarding his Workshop Residence furniture. “There is about to be born a multi-billion dollar industry based on this very same technology. The race is on to figure out how to do it because it is so conservative energy-wise and [not at all harmful] to the environment.”
In many of his creations Ross grows the fungus into a brick, once the brick dries it becomes super hard and surprisingly lightweight. For example, in Mycotecture, one of his most ambitious structures, Ross grew the fungus Ganoderma lucidum (or Reishi) into bricks at the Far West Fungi mushroom farm in Monterey, California, and stacked them into an arch.
“It has the potential to be a substitute for many petroleum-based plastics. It’s left the art world and seems to have entered a Science Fiction novel or something like that,” explained Ross in a recent interview with Glasstire. “With this stuff it’s possible to go into regional production of biomaterials. For instance, here in San Francisco, we could start producing lots of local materials using this fungus and could create a pilot project of sorts.”
In 2011, Ross applied for a patent for the use of mycelium as an organic building material (the patent is still pending). Ross isn’t just interested in mycelium’s potential as a building material, though — he also uses it as a medium for fine art. His work has been on display at several at museums around the world, and his work is currently part of the “Intimate Science” exhibition, which opens at Real Art Ways in Hartford Connecticut in November.