The idea of using mushrooms to make an easy-back chair might seem a bit ‘far out,’ but fungus furniture is precisely what USF professor Phillip Ross is trying to bring to mainstream industry.
Ross, who has been teaching sculpture and studio art at USF since 2008, has been crafting sculptures, furniture, and building material out of mushrooms for 20 years. He now has a patent pending for a new form of engineering, which he calls mycotecture, in a combination of the Greek word for fungi — ‘mykes’ — and ‘architecture.’
Ross first developed his knowledge of mushrooms while cooking as a chef, but took his kitchen skills to a whole new level when he started experimenting with the mushrooms in his art studio at home.
By combining the mushrooms with steamed woodchips, Ross found that the fungi fed off the wood and transformed into a dense, solidified mass, taking the form of whatever mold they were placed in. Since the fungi can be molded into almost anything, Ross believes that mushroom engineering could become a replacement to plastic, and that it will soon be used for all sorts of everyday products, like car parts, shoes, and clothing.
According to Ross, mycotecture has already inspired start up businesses, and Ross believes it will soon become a multi-million dollar industry. He has already been approached by a couple Fortune 100 companies that are interested in incorporating his technology into their products, he said.
As exciting as this is, Ross said, “One of the biggest difficulties is to go from [being] an inventor [and] artist into thinking about industrial production on a massive scale.” He believes the next step is mass-producing the mushroom technology into something found in everyone’s homes.
With the current popularity of sustainable and eco-friendly products, Ross could be onto something with his prediction for the future of the mushroom furniture industry.
As the core of the furniture is made up of compostable and biodegradable hydro-composite materials — namely, mushrooms and sawdust — mycotecture requires little energy and does not contain the toxic polymers from plastic that are normally found in mass marketed furniture.
The fungal blocks that make up the furniture are fused together organically when they are still wet, without the use of glue or other binders that are not biodegradable.
Ross has used his position as a professor at USF to teach architecture students about mycotecture techniques, and spends his time testing his art and the capacity of mushroom technology in workshops and labs around the Bay Area.
The professor works with these laboratories to develop his studies and improve the products.
He is currently working on a larger project in which he is growing an entire building out of fungal material, in a test structure meant to shelter 12-20 people at a time, according to his official website.
To learn more, visit his website: philross.org/projects/mycotecture.