A Cleveland architect’s project aims to take waste materials left over from demolition and construction and recycle them into reusable bricks. Christopher Maurer, principal at redhouse studio, is developing Biocycler in response to the debris left behind when preserving and adapting old buildings in Cleveland.

Maurer’s prior experience working in Africa with studioMDA and MASS Design Group, where he designed and built projects sponsored by a variety of humanitarian agencies, helped inform his interest in reducing both waste and pollution that construction and remodeling create. He is turning to fungal mycelium and calcite-producing microbes to convert building leftovers into bricks.

Using mushrooms to grow useful materials is not a novel concept. Ecovative, in Green Island, N.Y., started selling packing material and structural panels grown from mycelium since 2007. The company also produces textiles. In 2017 Arup proposed The Urban Bio-loop, a process that would use food waste to grow construction materials.

Comparison of Mycoterials and Concrete Characteristics. Source: redhouse designComparison of Mycoterials and Concrete Characteristics. Source: redhouse design

The technology Maurer envisions feeds the mushrooms ground-up organic matter — salvaged wood and other materials from tear-downs or buildings destroyed in natural disasters. As the mycelium grows it sends out root-like hypea that dissolve its organic matter substrate and then bonds with it at a cellular level. When the substrate is growing sufficiently the material can be backed into molds to form blocks or otherwise formed into the desired end product. A transportable growing unit, the Biocycler, would be brought to the site, where it would produce bricks and panels made from building detritus. Lumber from buildings destroyed in a hurricane or flood could eventually become temporary structures, greatly reducing the stress on already overflowing landfills.

The blocks and panels grown from mycelium demonstrate impressive structural qualities. The material’s strength is comparable to hardwood and concrete. It outperforms rigid expanded polystyrene (EPS) in thermal resistance; fire protection is similar to gypsum board, qualifying for a Class 1 firewall designation.

Maurer is collaborating with both NASA and MIT to develop and test the redhouse mycoterial. A Kickstarter fundraiser closes on February 11.