A new compostable tower made from fungal matter is now open to the public in New York City.

New York architecture firm The Living raised more than a few eyebrows when it won MoMA’s Young Architects Program with the concept for a compostable tower. Structural engineers Arup have actually turned the Hy-Fi tower into a reality, with the project finally opening to the public in New York.

The Living approached Arup, having derived the idea for the tower from Ecovative, a manufacturing company founded to develop alternate uses for the mushroom mycelium. This microscopic, fibrous fungus, when bound to agricultural waste, creates a strong, resilient matrix that can be moulded into any shape. The question that needed answering was just how tall a tower made from mushrooms bricks can be built.

composite tower

Analysis of the Fungal Wall

The final structure is comprised 10,000 organically grown bricks that easily carry their weight to the 40-foot height. To become a reality, however, the structural engineering journey for the project from conception to completion had to undergo a number of steps.

Although the material would later undergo testing at the Columbia University Lab, the first test was to see if the brick could hold up in a literal sense. In a sophisticated manoeuvre, the brick’s strength was tested and eventually given the go-ahead after it withstood the weight of a structural engineer.

The Engineering Ideas

The Engineering Ideas

With a height of 40 feet established, the next stage was to determine the optimal shape. Building on the lessons of Hurricane Sandy, still fresh in the mind of local New Yorkers, a wide base was designed to withstand the force of strong winds.

By weaving three chimneys together rather than a single, stand-alone structure, the building is able to resist gusts of over 65 miles per hour. Although the bricks can endure this force on their own, scaffolding planks remain in place to limit the amount of movement produced by the wind.

The organic bricks are combined with reflective bricks. These reflective bricks are produced through the custom manufacture of a new daylighting mirror film invented by 3M. The reflective bricks are used as growing trays for the organic bricks and incorporated into the final structure before being shipped back to 3M for use in further research.

The organic bricks are arranged at the bottom of the structure and the reflective bricks are arranged at the top to bounce light down on the towers and the ground. The structure inverts the logic of load-bearing brick construction and creates a gravity-defying effect — instead of being thick and dense at the bottom, it is thin and porous. The structure is calibrated to create a cool micro-climate in the summer by drawing in cool air at the bottom and expelling hot air from the top.

This new method of bio-design has resulted in a structure that consists of 100 per cent organic material. The structure temporarily diverts the natural carbon cycle to produce a building that grows out of nothing but earth and returns to nothing but earth—with almost no waste, no energy needs, and no carbon emissions.

Hy-Fi will remain open to the public in the MoMA PS1 courtyard until September 6, 2014.