A new type of compostable brick may lay the foundation for the future of sustainable architecture.
“Hy-Fi is a hybrid—it is both familiar and completely new, both biological and digital, both precise and hand-made, and both futuristic and immediate,” New York Designer David Benjamin said, referring to his organization’s innovative design which was used to construct a connected column-shaped mushroom tower.
“Each year the Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1 run the Young Architects Program and select a firm to design a future-oriented installation in the courtyard of the Museum in Queens,” Benjamin said. “It is a very unique and optimistic program, and there have been many innovative designs and ideas over the past 15 years.”
The organization was selected based on the proposal to create a branching tower as a fun, captivating space for the weekly music events, which also served as the experiment for a new example in design and manufacturing.
By using computation to test the structural performance of the tower and lay out the bricks in order to create the complex shape of the structure, Benjamin’s team was able to include varied sizes of bricks as well as position them into the perfect location and orientation to provide support to the ones beneath.
“In both cases, we used the computer to do things that would never be possible by hand,” he said.
The end result was the tower constructed entirely from a compostable brick. Unlike traditional building materials, these bricks are not directly manufactured, but grown utilizing mushrooms.
“We combine chopped up corn stalks with a living mushroom, place the mixture in a mold, and over about five days it grows into a solid brick,” he said.
The project is the first large outdoor building made out of this material.
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“The bricks decay and return to soil when you shred them and put them into a compost bin,” he said.
While most buildings are constructed with glass, steel and clay brick that require a large amount of energy to produce and remain in landfills for thousands of years, Hy-Fi is different.
“Our project is made of a compostable material that uses waste and requires almost no energy to produce,” he said. “And when our building is taken down, the material will return to soil in about 60 days. Our project starts from nothing but earth and returns to nothing but earth. It is designed to disappear as much as it is designed to appear.”
Because it requires little energy to produce, this would reduce carbon emissions when compared to the material demands of building traditionally.
“Our project requires much less energy to produce than a typical building. It therefore has almost no carbon emissions,” he said.
Some of the drawbacks to using the material over traditional steel and concrete is that it is not as strong. This prevents larger structures from being constructed, but it can be engineered for either temporary or permanent structures, Benjamin added.
“Over the course of the summer, we have been disassembling some of the bricks in the tower, composting them, then creating gardens out of the fresh soil from compost and planting new crops,” he said. “So we are demonstrating the full life-cycle, from crops to construction to compost, and back to crops.”
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