Contemporary open-plan offices offer space for both concentrated work as well as productive communication – a difficult balancing act that can only be achieved if the room’s surfaces are acoustically optimised.
Fast growing renewable raw materials offer an innovative, sustainable approach to developing bio-composite sound-absorbing surfaces for interior fittings. Arup, together with biotech start-up Mogu and building materials manufacturer Ardex, have developed a bio-degradable fungus-based modular interior fit-out system offering very good room acoustic properties.
The joint research team cultivated mycelium – the vegetative tissue of fungus – on a substrate of agricultural waste in untreated solid timber frames, all under controlled conditions. These mushroom cultures combine the natural fibres of timber and the substrate and, after a final heat treatment, create a completely new, durable bio-composite material with advanced sound absorbing properties.
Sustainable sound-absorbing materials for modern working environments
The components of these prefabricated modular acoustic panels are all fast-growing, 100% renewable raw materials that can be reused or composted at the end of their life cycle. Due to its soft surface and porous structure, the material offers very good acoustic properties which make it a perfect choice for interior fit-outs, especially office and conference spaces. The modular construction system enables a high degree of flexibility to adapt to short-term changes in the zoning of work places.
The modules, which can be adapted to customer requirements in terms of geometry, texture and colour, can be flexibly integrated into timber construction plug-in systems for interior design. The natural surfaces have an extraordinary haptic and textural quality and thus expand the repertoire for the design of modern and sustainable working environments.
The building system has been developed according to Cradle to Cradle and Circular Economy principles, and could potentially replace plastics and other fossil-fuel derivatives on a large scale.
Renewable bio-composite sound-absorbing panels: a mushrooming industry
Mycelium is the name given to the fine root network of fungi, consisting of so-called hyphae. It grows rapidly with the supply of moisture and nutrients – in this case organic waste such as straw – and colonises the substrate. A subsequent drying process stops the growth, hardens the composite and makes it robust. Since only the hyphae are used, the final bio-composite material contains no fruiting bodies and therefore no spores, which enables the material to be used without any health and safety restrictions.
Scaling up bio-composites: towards industrial production
For some years now there have been many attempts to use fungal structures for the production of hybrid mycelium materials. The naturally grown bio-material was first tested in art, fashion and product design including fit-out items and packaging materials. An early approach to using mycelium in construction is the Hy-Fi Tower designed by architecture studio The Living: a temporary tower made of mycelium bricks produced by Ecovative Design, presented at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2014. Arup was responsible for the structural engineering of the tower.
Part of the research project is the temporary construction of a house-in-house prototype to demonstrate the versatility and modularity of mycelium-based bio-composite building materials.