#FEMSmicroBlog: The building power of microbes


For a more sustainable approach within the construction sector, scientists and architects are exploring the use of microbes as building materials. An example is mycelium-based material for artworks and architecture prototypes. In this #FEMSmicroBlog entry, Vaishnavi Sridhar presents the many benefits but also pitfalls of using these materials. #MicrobiologyInArt


Microbes in architecture

Since most buildings are made of steel, concrete, wood or other materials, which are not sustainable in the long run, we need to rethink how to make construction sustainable. Microbes and microbial products have been used as sustainable building material for sculpturing and other art for a while already. That’s why they are starting to be considered as construction materials in integral parts of buildings.

Combining natural microbial processes or components such as calcium carbonate precipitation with building materials helps stabilize the structure of living materials. There are various examples where bacteria, fungi and algae were combined with building materials.

Some examples include self-healing concrete and fungal mycelium as bricks, blocks and panels. So far, the root-like fungal mycelium has been prototyped to create fungi-based materials for biodegradable and sustainable building products.


Myco-structures made of bricks and blocks

Producing these fungal-based materials involves growing fungal hyphae on a substrate for several days into a mass of mycelial composite. These composites are grown into moulds and then dried to prevent the growth of fruiting bodies. Depending on the combination of mycelium strains and substrates, the myco-materials have different properties.

The mycelium moulds are further pressed into bricks or blocks, which can be assembled to build structures. To strengthen the structure of the building, current myco-block structures still require a steel or wooden framework.

Products MycoComposite™ and AirMycelium™ from Ecovative Design. Image from Almpani-Lekka et al. (2021).

Various artists and designers have used these blocks to build sculptures. One example is Mycoworks, a company producing sustainable products using mycelium of the Reishi fungus Ganoderma lucidum.

In another example, The Living Studio designed Hy-Fi, a pavilion composed of interconnected cylinders. For this piece of bioart, the company Ecovative combined fungal mycelium with agricultural waste to generate the building blocks of the pavilion.

A structural analysis found that this myco-block based pavilion could withstand wind gusts of up to 65 mph. Nevertheless, to minimize movement due to the wind, the structure was supported by scaffolding. After the exhibition, the bricks were shredded, returned to the soil and degraded in 60 days.

The Shell Mycelium Pavilion by Studio Beetles, similar to the one described in the text. Image from Almpani-Lekka et al. (2021).


Challenges and opportunities

The need to reinforce myco-based building materials with non-sustainable materials like wood or metal is just one challenge that currently prevents their mass production.

Also, since they are created from living materials, the production and durability of myco-based building material depend on temperature, moisture and the substrate itself. Before letting the mycelium grow, the substrate needs to be sterilized to prevent the growth of spoilage organisms. In some cases, structures can crack or decay allowing harmful mold to build up.

But the advantages of myco-based materials make them a sustainable alternative to currently used building materials. Agricultural waste, sawdust and other waste products can be used as substrates by the mycelium making myco-blocks compost. This could even help waste management in the long run.

In comparison to other traditional materials such as wood and concrete, myco-materials are light weight making them easier to work with. Additionally, when combined with appropriate substrates, myco-based materials can become fire-resistant.

The power of myco-based materials is just the beginning. While myco-based materials might not be able to replace traditional materials completely yet, as we optimise myco-materials it is just a matter of time until they are more widely used in construction. So, why not explore some myco-based products to support the planet?


About the author

Vaishnavi Sridhar has a PhD in Cell and Developmental Biology from the University of British Columbia, Canada. She studied proteins at membrane contact sites and their possible function in lipid transport in cells. Currently, she works as a manager for Academic Meetings and Events at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, India.

About this blog section

The section #MicrobiologyInArt will present examples of microbiology in literature, cinema, comic books, songs, graphic art, modern/contemporary art, video(games), photography, dance, and others. A particular focus is on what could people learn from those examples, or how they can raise awareness on microbiology topics, issues, and potentials.

Back to top

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share this news