Fungus is everywhere. You might not notice it normally, but you would if you were sitting on it. And you might be, thanks to the work of Philip Ross, who has found ways to grow fungus into architectural elements that just might turn into a more sustainable building material than metal or wood.
Originally from New York City, Ross began hunting mushrooms as a chef at the yoga retreat center Omega Institute in upstate New York, before discovering what he calls the "rich fungal environment" on the West Coast. He’s currently exhibiting a line of furniture cultured from fungus in San Francisco’s Workshop Residence .
Feeding it agricultural waste, Ross grows each prototype onsite in an ultra-controlled environment, using a mold, filtered air, gravity, and pressure to achieve the shape: An armchair took two weeks to grow. Then he kiln-dies them, leaving little or no odor and a texture similar to high-density foam or cork. The species he uses, ganoderma, can attain almost any texture given the right conditions: "Fluffy cotton, rubber, high-impact plastic, cork, styrofoam, or a complex hybrid composite—all within the same monolithic object," he says. (Better known as Reishi fungus, in China and Japan it is boiled into a tea renowned as an immune booster with anti cancer properties.) Beginning October 27, the Residence will be selling the pieces in a limited edition of a few hundred with prices ranging from $250 to $2,000.
Given the simple inputs and the flexibility of the results, fungus has fascinating possibilities as a material for sustainable construction and manufacture. The reasons Ross has molded his life’s work around the kingdom of fungus sound almost mystical, except for the fact that they’re scientifically true. "They’re transformative agents. They turn crap into something bulletproof. The more you pay attention, the more you will learn from them about how to change one thing into another."