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Smart people thinking about rotten things

Mushroom materials named under the sun

The ability to grow synthetic wood, open cell foams, and leather analogs is only a small demonstration of what mushroom materials are capable of. Our knowledge of mushrooms is fractured between different industries, areas of expertise, and histories of study. In this new field of applied materials, there is an urgent need for basic measurements and standardized physical parameters at the microscopic level. If we are to fully understand this emerging area of husbandry, it’s going to require significant investment – as well as smart people focused on thinking about rotten things.

By Phil Ross

For the most part, mushrooms live as a colony of interwoven threadlike cells. They thrive by decomposing and consuming dead plants; the mesh-like body of the mushroom beaks down plant material and then rearranges it in plastic configurations and chemical organizations within its own networked body.

MateriaalsBook-151d-KindRecognition.jpegEarly development of mushroom materials

Mushroom materials were first developed as an artistic medium to grow temporary sculptural forms. It was soon discovered that materials grown from the dense living matrix of a mushroom could be used to make advanced composites, foams and performance plastics.

These materials can be grown into the texture of urethane foams with surfaces that are velvety and fluffy, leathery and rubbery, or beetle-shell brittle and shiny. In addition to this, consumer products grown through a process of fermentation and decomposition require far less energy, water, and other resources than conventional manufacturing.


Formed in 20123, MycoWorks originally aimed to use mushroom materials to replace petroleum-based composites used in furniture and home construction. Although there was great interest from consumers and designers, it was unclear how to increase the scale of manufacturing to achieve competitive prices with existing materials.

MycoWorks was then reconfigured to focus where mushroom materials were valued at a premium. The world of fashion provided both a consumer and a market demand for alternatives to the animal skins and plastics used to make apparel. By molding the body of the mushroom into a sheet and processing it in many of the same ways as animal leather, a sensual and strong material for luxury fashion was developed.

Efficiency is not the only attractive aspect of these kinds of materials, but so is their plastic ability to conform to the problems at hand.

MateriaalsBook-152c-Leather.jpegRe-materializing Construction

This text is extracted from the paper Mushroom materials named under the sun presented by Phil Ross at the LafargeHolcim Forum for Sustainable Construction on “Re-materializing Construction” held at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. The full text is available as a flip-book via the link below:

Mushroom materials named under the sun

Inspired by the discussions by 350 leading thinkers from architecture, engineering, planning, and the construction industry from 55 countries, Ruby Press Berlin has published The Materials Book that evaluates current architectural practices and models, and introduces materials and methods to maximize the environmental, social, and economic performance of the built environment in the context of “Re-materializing Construction”.

The Materials Book: Re-materializing Construction – Cairo (Ruby Press)

Last Updated: April 23, 2020
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San Francisco, CA, USA
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