A few years ago, a fellow in the French village where we live showed us his old family house and business. The large stone building, dating back to the early nineteenth century, was in two side-by-side sections. On one side, the spacious restaurant; on the other side, a three-story rustic home. The structure had been empty since the restaurant had closed eight years earlier. The family had moved up the street to a modern home years before that.
Like all empty buildings, the structure hadn’t remained uninhabited at all. Most of the floors of the old residence had been chewed away by rodents and insects, cats had the run of the place. But there was one kind of resident that took us all by surprise.
The door to the large wine cellar hadn’t been opened in at least five years. And when our acquaintance opened it to show us the cellar, we found that the entire room, from top to bottom, was blanketed in white foam. Every surface, all the wine shelves, the floor, the walls, everything with the exception of a couple of forgotten wine bottles and the light bulbs that lit the place, was covered in thick white fungus. Some of it had hardened. The neighbor quietly shut the door on the secret ecosystem and gave us a look of dismay. “I’ll have to gut the cellar,” he said. “Can’t just clean that stuff up.
Mycelium, mushroom root material, can be grown to fill almost any shape or mold. Once dried and hardened, the organic building blocks display a number of features we ask of our best building materials: They insulate, they are carbon-neutral in their manufacture, they are fire and water resistant. Fungal blocks grow themselves and once we are done with them, we can compost them to make more.
Queens, New York, will host an architectural installation made of fungal building blocks this summer. I’m not sure how people will take to wandering in a mushroom tower, but if these building blocks really do fulfil their promise, your next house might just be fungal.