Monday, 4 February 2013

Fungal Furniture

We have often written about the uses fungi and in particular Aspergillus can be put to for food, industrial products, teas, sauces and so on. This latest example is something quite different.

Designer Philip Ross has taken putting fungi to use in a different direction - he is using fungi to grow furniture!

Ross, an artist, inventor and self-taught mycologist, says he "just allows these monstrosities to emerge". I'd call them organic beauties. Semantics aside, his chairs, footstools and tables withstand weight, falls and a fair bit of fire or water before they eventually degrade. Fungal furniture outlasts Ikea wares easily, Ross says.
Ross's rotten furniture line follows years of mushroom sculpting. His obsession with fungus began two decades ago when he worked as a chef who grew his own oyster mushrooms at home. He noticed that once the mushrooms sprout they bend in patterns that allow them to capture rays of sunlight beaming in from his windows. Curiosity piqued, Ross began to control their growth by filtering the incoming light into various shapes.
After a while, Ross's sights turned to the fungal body growing below mushrooms, which forms a rich network of thin fibres that normally remain underground. Where mushrooms are delicate and soon degrade, their body, or soma, is tough, durable and, as Ross discovered, manipulable.
Currently, his chosen fungus is Ganoderma lucidum (commonly called reishi or lingzhi), which has been hailed for its healing powers in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2000 years. Reishi feeds on various woods, but the fungal furniture on display during his residency at Workshop Residence once feasted upon red oak sawdust.
As it digests the wood, it rearranges the fibres and forms a hard substance called chitin, also found in crab shells. The arrangement of the sawdust and the size of its chunks alter the chitinous forms that result.

Though this furniture would be frowned upon for use in homes by people who suffer from serious allergies and asthma (and 8% of children are apparently allergic to Ganoderma in a study carried out in Canada), it seems quite practical in that it is strong and durable. The artist states that the fungal material is baked and varnished to prevent live spores escaping into the atmosphere but this may well not be enough as at least some allergens are resistant to heat, and of course wear and damage to the furniture would expose the mycelia.

Not furniture we would like to see in homes with young children!

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