Fungi, Fashion and the Future of Buildings

While social distancing has changed how we enjoy concerts, sporting events and many other activities, books remain good companions. We’re excited to share some picks for your reading pleasure, starting with a fascinating look at the convergence of nature and building science. 

“Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures,” by Merlin Sheldrake, (Random House, 2020) celebrates the interconnections between fungi below the earth’s crust, the plants above ground and the larger eco-system we share. From a single celled algae to an 8,000-year-old “honey fungus” spanning acres, the interlacing network of the wood-wide-web is changing our world as fungi eat rock, make soil, digest pollutants, feed humans, manufacture medicine, influence animal behavior and even comprise building materials that decompose when their purpose is served.

Case in point, the FUNGAR international consortium of scientists and designers working to craft a building composed entirely of fungus, combining mycelium composites with fungal computing circuits that detect and respond to light, temperature and pollution levels. Imagine clusters of white rot fungi making our buildings smarter and stronger!

From fashion to food, medicine to modular buildings, the book explores how microbial communities are changing our world. Fashion designer Stella McCartney is exploring white rot fungi as an alternative to leather. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded a $10M research and development contract to advance interest in growing barracks out of mycelium that repair themselves when damaged and decompose when their job is done. Developers in Australia are trying to apply mycelial to create a termite-resistant brick.   

Whether digging for truffles in France, peering inside volcanos in Hawaii or exploring what lies below the permafrost in the Artic, fungi are everywhere, producing around 50 megatons of spores annually—an amount  equal to the weight of 500,000 blue whales. In fact, “Entangled Life” goes on to note, fungi are the largest source of living particles in the air.

As you curl up with a cup of tea or your favorite libation, this book reminds us that fermented yeast make many beverage possible—and some fungi even serve as ink for printing books.

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