In children’s storybooks, mushrooms often make great furniture for tiny creatures like fairies, gnomes, and toads (hence "toadstools"). In real-world design advances, the meeting of fungi and furniture is a, uh, fast-growing trend.
It was only a matter of time before the mushrooms met the other Great Promise of Future Products, 3-D printing. Dutch designer Erik Klarenbeek has 3-D printed an incredible sculptural chair from a mixture of straw, water, and mycelium, a threadlike network of fungus that lives underground. Klarenbeek tells Co.Design, "We were experimenting in our studio for some time with 3-D printers, and I asked this team of scientists at the University of Wageningen, 'We'd like to 3-D print living plant cells, can you help us out?'"
Klarenbeek and his team connected with the Mushroom Research Group of Plant Breeding at the university, and were immediately bewitched by the plant's power. "The longer we work with it, the more fascinated and inspired we are by the potential of mycelium," says Klarenbeek. Together, the designers and scientists experimented with breeding printed material with mycelium, a threadlike fungal network that lives underground. "Our team started making pastes and mixtures out of water and compostable materials, such as straw—materials that we could 3-D print, and that mycelium likes to grow on."
They fed this durable new concoction into a 3-D printer and printed segments of the chair separately. Once it was fused together, the strong but lightweight seat was encased in a layer of bioplastic. As a decorative design element, Klarenbeek allowed lovely yellow oyster mushrooms to sprout from the chair's branch-like legs and back. Over a year in the making, the complete version is on display at Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven.
Now obsessed with the wonders of mycology, Klarenbeek muses, "Wouldn't it be great to 3-D print a house! Mycelium’s properties include insulating capabilities and strength. This robot would build its complete interior and exterior structure, working together in symbiosis with the living organism. Instead of polluting its surroundings, such a house would fertilize them." Maybe, in a more sustainable future, we'll all be pulling up a toadstool at the dining room table, as designers continue to blur the line between house and garden in intriguing ways.