Mycelium as a Remediator
Mycelium -- the intelligent and energy-neutral backbone for mushrooms and other fungi -- has exciting implications for future manufacturing. But its incorporation into daily life is nascent at best.
Through this thesis, I proposed mycelium as a building material to rethink global assembly and remediate the devastating conditions caused by the Anthropocene. After establishing mycelium as an approachable and valid alternative to petrochemicals, my research presented three playful narratives that revealed the merits of the material.
Awards & Recognition
$10,000 USD | John Knox Shear Memorial Travel Award | 2017
$2,600 USD | Frank-Ratchye Fund for Art (FRFAF) | 2017
$1,000 USD | CRIT Scholar AIAS Fellowship | 2018
Design research Conceptual design Exhibit design Fabrication Print
Charting Human Complexity
Before making a case for alternative materials, it was important to understand how humanity had evolved into its current state. The research began with anthropological and historical surveying to study how we advanced our complexity more than any other species.
This phase of research identified today's misguided approach to modern complexity, calling attention to our hyper-capitalist and consumptive behavior. It helped make a case for looking towards alternative materials and methods and rethinking the brute force ways of life that we've grown so accustomed to.
At this point, I started to study mycelium -- a remarkably intelligent and resilient building material that can alleviate the exhaustive petrochemical distribution networks that we rely on.
Thanks to traveling stipends I was granted by the SoA, I backpacked around mainland Japan to discover the advents of mushrooms for myself. This field study was enriching for my research as it allowed me to witness the truly awesome capabilities of mycelium hands-on.
I returned from my travels equipped with traditional growing expertise, which I was able to translate over through the fabrication of a custom designed growth chamber. The enclosure incorporated UV-blocking acrylic to minimize contamination, and an intelligent control system to mediate humidity and temperature to maximize the mycelium's growth potential.
The fruiting bodies that emerged were what I used to test and understand the material. I was able to validate what I learned during my field study -- that mycelium has a two-part growth process of inoculation and fruiting.
Over several weeks of testing various ratios of feedstock to water, air, and growth medium, I was able to minimize the full growth cycle to just over nine days.
This accomplishment was vital for my next phase of research, where I would look to conceptual storytelling to build an argument for how easily mycelium can integrate into daily life.
Lastly, I focused on producing three narratives that promoted past, present, and future applications of living with mycelium. Each of these narratives had a conceptual hero image, followed with 10-12 smaller frames that detail that specific story.
These narratives were intentionally and strategically extreme to make clear how desperate our current environmental situations actually are.
Exhibiting the Work
At the end of the year, our thesis cohort curated our work in the Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon.
The exhibit was split into three zones -- echoing my three research phases -- and funneled visitors in a prescribed fashion. I offered my visitors a guidebook to better frame my argument and shape the way they viewed, internalized, and made opinions of the work.
By promoting mycelium as an alternative material and method, the research proposed a future in which we might be able to replace our hyper-mechanized assembly lines with silently growing and unimaginably complex organisms.