Course Blog

Building with a biological approach

Building with a biological approach

The estimated amount of concrete produced per person is around 1 ton per year and considering that the cement industry is responsible for up to 5% of the total carbon dioxide emissions generated by human it turns out to be a pretty contaminating industry. These CO2 emissions are distributed throughout energy consuming process of transportation, mixing and even the placement of the material,

There have been intents on generating another kind of constructions, and one of those gave rise to the “living architecture”, in which by using living organisms such as trees people shaped bridges or chairs, which in some way present a more environmentally friendly way of construction. (Vallas, T., Courard, L. 2017) But this kind of structures takes a very long time to be constructed, making them very inconvenient for the construction of buildings in short periods of time.

Image 1. Tree bridges in Meghalaya, India. (Photo posted by Bridgette Meinhold, 2014)


Developing new materials

More recently there was a development of a different approach; the mycelium, which is a natural and renewable material that can be easily grown. This material became commercially available in 2007 when Ecovative made the use of this fungi-based material more widespread. (Vallas, T., Courard, L. 2017)

To prove its capacity for construction The Living developed a project called “Hy-Fi”, shown below, using 10,000 mycelium bricks generated by 3 different brick molds. This tower was built in 2014 and the final structure reached the 13 meters.

Image 2. “Hy-Fi Project” in New York, designed by The Living.


Facing the challenges

The first challenge to overcome is the characteristics of the material; although the mycelium bricks have a compressive strength of 0.2 MPa if we compare them to the concrete this last has a compressive strength in between 28 and 70 MPa. On the bright side, mycelium which has a weight of 43 kg/m3 is much lighter than concrete that has a weight of 2,400 kg/m3 making it easier and less energy consuming to transport. (Baker, M. 2017)

Even to create this tower which during its production had no CO2 production, there was still a need to transport the bricks and industrial operations that do require energy and generate emissions and therefore have a negative impact in the environment. (Vallas, T., Courard, L. 2017) This is a major point that needs to be addressed,

Maybe we don’t need to address this last problem so directly, but instead using other biological tools that can allow us to integrate new organisms that bring new characteristics to the building. One of the ideas we’ve had is the use of panels with cyanobacteria to generate electricity, we can’t completely avoid using energy for a construction but we can help giving back that energy and generating new energy in a sustainable way and incorporate that into the architecture such as the Bio Intelligent Quotient House that has panels with cyanobacteria generating electricity for the building, (Mazard et al. 2016) with the difference of using mycelium bricks.

Image 3. Bio Intelligent Quotient (BIQ) house in Hamburg.  (Mazard et al. 2016)

Another perspective could be the use of biofilms that can help make the mycelium bricks more hydrophobic, provide electrical charge and even make them rougher. (M., Dade-Robertson, et al. 2017)

The first design for our project is shown below, this design was done by Luis Guzman Martinez, and it is a biomimicry design based on a caterpillar, this design includes the use of hydrogels, but the development of the final design will depend on the characteristics of the materials that will be used, and on the function they’ll have within the structure.

Image 4. Initial design for the bio-architecture structure. (Guzman Martinez, L., 2018)


  1. Flower, J. Sanjayan, (2017). Greenhouse Gas Emissions Due to Concrete Manufacture, Handbook of Low Carbon Concrete, ELSEVIER, DOI:
  3. Vallas, T., Courard, L. (2017) Using nature in architecture: Building a living house with mycelium and trees, Frontiers of Architectural Research (2017) 6, 318–328.
  4. Baker, M. (2017). The Future of Construction: Mushroom Buildings, Available From: [], 14th February 2018.
  5. [], 14th February 2018.
  6. Mazard, S., Penesyan, A., Ostrowski, M., Paulsen, I., Egan, S. (2016). Tiny Microbes with a Big Impact: The Role of Cyanobacteria and Their Metabolites in Shaping Our Future, Marine Drugs 2016, 14, 97; doi:10.3390/md14050097.
  7. , Dade-Robertson, A. Keren-Paz, M. Zhang, I. Kolodkin-Gal. (2017). Architects of nature: growing buildings with bacterial biofilms. © 2017 The Authors. Microbial Biotechnology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd and Society for Applied Microbiology.