Humanscale Design Studio undertook a sustainable design challenge -- reimagine the design of a simple stool through three different sustainable approaches: biomimicry, circular economy, and biofabrication. Humanscale designer Paul Sukphisit collaborated with biofabrication experts at Evocative to create a stool made of mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms. To create the shape of the stool, they arranged mycelium to grow between hemp fibers which then created composite blocks. Over time, the mycelium continues to grow, bonding the blocks together. This practice can be expanded to create sustainable fabrics, foams, and more. We sat down with Paul to learn more about his biofabrication approach and how he identified mycelium as his material of choice.

What was the greatest lesson learned from completing the challenge? When designing a new product, designers need to consider mass quantity production, cost-effectiveness of materials and production schedule constraints. The typical manufacturing process is either injection molding, casting, or machine forming. Working on the mycelium stool project encouraged me to rethink natural material, and how to use natural growth properties as an advantage to the overall design.

How did you decide on the direction you eventually used? Like many materials and processes, mycelium has its own limitations and advantages. There is thickness and size limitation, and it also needs to be in a controlled environment to grow effectively. The design direction takes advantage of these properties by producing small parts of the stool first to maximize the growing time and structural integrity. Then, using its natural growing property, we bonded all the pieces together to become the final stool.

Has the challenge changed your overall design approach? Yes it has. This challenge exposed me to a whole other way of thinking about materials. I now think that materials don’t need to be limited to synthetic materials, but can also include natural materials. We just need to understand its limitations and advantages and incorporate that into the design thinking process.

Interested in more? Check out the two other stool approaches — circular economy and biomimicry — that were a part of this sustainability challenge.