Magic Mushrooms: Carlo Ratti’s Mycelium Arches at Milan Design Week

‘The Circular Garden’ was grown from the soil in six weeks using fully sustainable construction materials

Fungi are amongst the most common organisms on the planet: their combined biomass exceeds that of the total weight of the animal kingdom. The largest organism on the planet is a type of mushroom: the Humongous Fungus, as it’s affectionately known, covers almost four square-miles in the Blue Mountains in Oregon and is estimated to be somewhere between 2,400 and 8,650 years old. Human life would not have developed without them and they will very likely outlive us. (As described in Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s surprise hit book The Mushroom at the End of the World, 2017, ‘the first living thing to emerge from the blasted landscape [after the bomb fell on Hiroshima] was a matsutake mushroom’.) And we are discovering more varieties – and more uses for them – all the time.

Carlo Ratti, The Circular Garden, 2019. Courtesy: Carlo Ratti Associates 

Carlo Ratti, The Circular Garden, 2019. Courtesy: Carlo Ratti Associati

One such development is in the field of architecture, where mycelium – a threadlike network of fungi that grows rapidly and in any shape – is being explored as a resilient, sustainable alternative to traditional building materials. For a project at Milan Design Week, the Turin-based architect and designer Carlo Ratti has explored the aesthetic as well as the structural properties of the mycelium forms. Developed in collaboration with the energy company Eni, ‘The Circular Garden’ is a series of self-supporting arches, clustered into four outdoor ‘rooms’, that has been installed in Brera’s Orto Botanico. Four-metres-high each, the 60 arches together form a kilometre-long chain of mushroom material. The installation has been grown from the soil over the past six weeks (with the help of the Dutch lab Krown.Bio) and will return to the soil, in a neatly circular fashion, after the installation closes on 19 April.

Main image: Carlo Ratti, The Circular Garden, 2019. Courtesy: Carlo Ratti Associati; photograph: Marco Beck Peccoz 

Amy Sherlock is deputy editor of frieze and is based in London, UK.

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