Chair made from mushroom mycelium by Merjan Tara Sisman.
Courtesy of designer. Chair made from mushroom mycelium by Merjan Tara Sisman.

Several years ago, forward-thinking Ecovative Design made headlines with its development of insulating and packaging materials made from mushrooms. What these mycological biocomposites lacked in aesthetic refinement they made up for in environmental performance, given their minimal-impact production.

Recently, Philadelphia University industrial design students demonstrated that fungi can be utilized to create more sophisticated interior furnishings. For their senior project, Merjan Tara Sisman and Brian McClellan created the "Living Room Project," with a prototype chair and pendant light made from the mycelial roots of mushrooms. After discovering various ways in which to control root growth within prefabricated molds, Sisman and McClellan crafted objects of unexpected sturdiness and refinement.

The duo consider their design process—which is similar to that used by Ecovative—akin to a zero-energy type of 3D printing. "What I loved about mycelium was the fact that its act of growth became the design itself," Sisman told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "It is actually beautiful. It is a pretty little smart thing that holds great potential."

Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.