How can bio-materials like fungi help businesses to sustainably flex their interior design to accommodate creative ways of working, while improving the acoustic quality of those workspaces?
Many firms are considering their working arrangements for a post-pandemic world, adopting a hybrid approach split between home and the workplace. Office spaces need to be reconfigured to match the move to activity-based work, adapting areas for collaborative meetings as well as focused work.
Fast growing raw materials like mycelium offer an innovative, sustainable approach to developing bio-composite sound-absorbing surfaces for interior fittings. Arup worked with Italian biodesign firm Mogu to develop FORESTA, a bio-degradable mycelium-based acoustic panel system with proven acoustic properties.
According to a 2020 UN Environment Programme report, almost 40% of carbon emissions are created by the construction sector. Bio-composite materials offer a sustainable way forward away from traditional materials like plastics, metal and plaster. Biomaterials are key to decarbonise construction and to move away from a wasteful economy. At the same time, they open new horizons for architects to create beautiful and performative environments.
We want to design and engineer fit-out solutions that allow biomaterials being used at scale, so that they can be adopted by businesses on their transition to net-zero carbon, reconfiguring workplaces for the post-Covid circular economy. ” Jan Wurm Research & Innovation Leader Europe
Workplace design - embracing circularity
The components of the prefab FORESTA system are made of fast-growing, completely renewable raw materials that can be reused or composted at the end of their life cycle, therefore helping businesses move away from the ‘take-make-waste’ system towards a circular economy model.
Due to its soft surface and porous structure, the high-quality panels offer acoustic properties making the system ideal for premium commercial interior fit-outs as well as design-driven leisure and hospitality spaces. The modular construction system enables a high degree of flexibility to adapt to short-term changes in the zoning of workplaces.
The FORESTA system is composed of acoustic panels made of mycelium – the vegetative tissue of fungus. Each module is grown by mushroom cultures on a substrate of agricultural waste materials such as hemp chives and textile residue, and supported on a frame of regional beech wood. After a final heat treatment, the material becomes a durable bio-composite with proven sound-absorbing properties.
Designed for assembly and disassembly, the system’s wooden frame simplifies the installation and allows for easy configuration in every interior space. The modules can be adapted to meet a range of customer requirements in terms of geometry, texture and colour. Their natural surfaces offer an extraordinary haptic and textural quality suited to modern and sustainable working environments.
Scaling up bio-composites: towards industrial production
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 hemp chives as well as textile residues – 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 spores, aligning with health and safety requirements.
Beside the cutting-edge innovation embedded in the bio-fabrication, the system’s timber components are manufactured with latest technologies in timber processing. The system hybridizes the materiality of timber with advanced digital fabrication and shows the potential for innovative product manufacturing processes based on parametric modelling, robotized production lines, and advanced manufacturing.
Combining a unique design with advanced technology, the FORESTA system offers an innovative, truly sustainable solution for acoustic comfort.
Our collaboration with Mogu in the development of FORESTA is representative of opportunities throughout our built environment to increase the sustainability of the products we use, by adopting bio-composites and other natural materials. Combining established technical expertise with new material technologies gave our team the confidence to design and engineer a solution that is appropriate for a healthy return to our spaces in a post-pandemic world. ” Max Resnick Senior Designer
The FORESTA acoustic system was awarded the German Design Award 2022 in the category Excellent Product Design/Eco Design. The award was given by the German Design Council ‒ a foundation established on the initiative of the German Bundestag.