Computational Design With Myco-Materials

Phillip Gough The University of Sydney School of Architecture Deisgn and Planning
Anastasia Globa The University of Sydney School of Architecture Deisgn and Planning
Dagmar Reinhardt The University of Sydney School of Architecture Deisgn and Planning

A circular economy is needed, in addition to addressing atmospheric CO2, for humans to live sustainably with Earth’s ecosystems. A sustainable economy will mean that economic activities could continue forever, however many current patterns of consumption and production in our current linear economy are unsustainable. There are opportunities for growth through a circular economy that gives value to waste materials, such as cardboard, a material that has been identified as having an opportunity for growth in new markets [1]. This research explores how computational design can contribute to a circular economy by making use of waste cardboard, through DIY and domestically applicable 2D and 3D digital fabrication methods. The report presents paper waste as an important material stream, and highlights market development for secondary materials and their products as a priority area for development and research [1]. In combination with wood-based waste, another waste material that could have value added for a circular economy [2], cardboard and paper waste can be used as a substrate to grow designs out of myco-materials. Mycelia are the forms of fungi that colonise and degrade lignocellulosic material: a fallen tree in the wild, or a compost pile, but also paper, cardboard and timber waste. We use an endemic, edible species of mushroom, Ganoderma lucidum (Australian reishi or lingzhi), to bind together material that the mycelia grow on so that it can form a strong but lightweight myco-material. This novel material holds its shape and can be moulded into useful forms that are ultimately biodegradable. Previous research has led to successful applications of the resulting myco-materials that include insulation, moulded forms, architectural installations, and animal-free leather alternatives [3, 4]. The biology of growing mushrooms is understood, but there is no pipeline to transform the properties of the mushrooms into new designs for the circular economy through computational design methods. Consequently, we adopt an iterative biodesign approach [5] for a collaborative and interdisciplinary exploration of designing with living systems of myco-materials. Firstly, a series of case studies serve to identify applications for sustainable (built) environments; including (a) how mycelia can be used in the production process for developing more myco-material forms, and (b) opportunities for incorporating modular designs and interactive systems into the myco-material. In a second step, the research evaluates these sample materials through controlled testing, in order to derive data for characteristics and qualities, including mechanical, structural, temperature/insulation and acoustic performance. In a third step, a parametric model is established as a function of the above criteria, so as to enable defined embedding of myco-material properties into products. Most computational design applications and research involving mycelia materials adopt a design-to-production approach, where computation is performed during the fom-making design stage, which is followed by the fabrication and assembly steps. Our intent is to flip this process. Working on a micro level, we aim to understand and simulate the way different mycelia composites behave throughout their lifetime. This includes testing structural growth rules and interaction with various internal interventions and moulds (PLA 3D prints, cardboard, timber, internal wiring etc.). How the mushroom grows into its new shape, how it expands, warps and shrinks when it goes through the drying process? This knowledge will also help us to produce more precise mycelia-to-mycelia composite joints and structures.

Keywords: Mycelia, Growing Designs, Computational Design, Sdg12 – Responsible Consumption And Production

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