When we think about sustainability, about circularity, and about next-generation materials, it’s rare that we’re thinking about furniture. In fact, beyond the obvious – looking for a place to sit, to put something, or whether or not it looks nice in our homes – it’s rare we think about furniture at all.
Compared to fashion and to footwear, furniture doesn’t get anywhere near the same level of scrutiny. But shouldn’t it? Isn’t a sofa, or a table, or a chair, made up of material building blocks in the same way as a sneaker?
West Java-based materials outfit Mycotech Lab, aka MYCL, certainly seems to think so.
Having showcased its work at the Brain Dead x Space Available “Mycelium Network” exhibition last year, the fungi pioneer has now partnered with luxury furniture purveyors PITA to bring its mushroom-based wares to market and, crucially, into peoples’ homes.
The Shrüm stool, designed by ōd architecture studio using MYCL’s materials, might seem like a humble innovation – but it’s the use of these groundbreaking materials in what otherwise seem like everyday items that feels most like a harbinger of possible, real, tangible change. That the product has moved through the phases of existence so smoothly – being displayed as an art object within a group exhibition, to a product available directly from MYCL’s website, through to a wider-market piece of furniture, on view at a high-end retailer’s showroom – feels like it bodes well.
By this point, the green credentials of mycelium are a song you’ve heard a thousand times. What you hear less often, however, is that the mushroom-based material has serious chops when it comes to functionality, too. “It has a really good strength to weight ratio,” MYCL explains, “For example, the Shrüm stool only weighs 3kg and has a max load of 879kg. It also has really good shock absorption properties, which make it durable, and – at the end of its life – it’s fully biodegradable.” All of which, along with the fact of its versatility – it can be moulded into more or less any shape you should desire – make it a prime candidate for design objects like furniture and even for more frivolous ornamentals that would otherwise surely be crafted from plastics.
“As a material, it’s the material of the future,” MYCL suggests, and it’s easy to see how that might be true – its rapid rise in popularity with brands and manufacturers and its apparent, near-simultaneous embrace as desirable by consumers certainly put mycelium front and center. But, while there’s every reason for optimism, according to MYCL there’s also no time for hubris or for complacency: “We need to keep innovating regarding its production system – looking at how can we make it more efficient, and more streamlined.”
This isn’t so much about mycelium’s failings – about room for improvement – as it is about room to grow, and about embracing the kind of curiosity that got us to the point of having scalable mushroom-based furniture in the first place.
Not content to have found a formula that works, MYCL is still asking questions – “Is it possible to 3D print it? Make the substrate from sludge to make the mold filling process easier?” – but, it’s worth noting, none of those questions are, “Who’d want to sit on a mushroom anyway?”. That one, it seems, has already been answered.