See that chair? It’s made—grown, actually—from mushroom roots. It’s organic, eco-friendly, zero net energy, requires no assembly and … is sturdy enough to sit on.
The chair was designed and grown by Mercan Sisman, an industrial design senior at Philadelphia University, who worked on this project using mycelium (mushroom roots) combined with wood chips, along with fellow industrial design senior Brian McClellan, who designed and made the lamps in the photo.
As part of their senior thesis projects, Mercan and Brian wanted to break the mold, so to speak, and come up with an eco-friendly alternative for making furniture on multiple levels—the material itself, shipping and assembly and life-cycle issues (the material is biodegradable). They did exhaustive research on living, organic materials before they decided on the mycelium, which they bought from a farm in California.
In a simple explanation, the students designed a mold, applied a mycelium-wood chip mixture and enclosed it in plastic (moisture is essential to the process) while the fungal roots grow and glue the wood chip mixture together. After the mold is completed, the material is removed from the bag, air-dried and then baked to kill the mycelium and stabilize the product.
One of the attributes of the material is that it grows around things, so when chair legs are inserted there is no need for additional hardware or assembly, the material simply attaches itself to the legs. The lamps took a week to grow; the chair took three weeks.
“This has the potential to be a better, more eco-friendly material to use in furniture and other products,” Mercan Sisman explained. Although the material can be painted, patterned and otherwise manipulated, Sisman said she wanted something “that looks really organic. It has its own aesthetic.”
The chair and lamps are on display at PhilaU’s Senior Design Show in the Gallagher Athletic Center through Sunday, May 12. Mercan and McClellan plan to continue to experiment and work with the mycelium after they graduate.