From Ag waste to organic brick: Corn stalks reused to make construction materials [BD+C's 2014 Great Solutions Report]

Ecovative Design applies its cradle-to-cradle process to produce 10,000 organic bricks used to build a three-tower structure in Long Island City, N.Y.

December 29, 2014 |
Photo courtesy Museum of Modern Art

Since its launch in 2007, New York-based Ecovative Design has garnered a lot of attention for creating building and packaging materials with low-carbon footprints by mixing agricultural waste with mushroom-derived mycelium. Instead of ending up in landfills, these materials can be composted and reused as soil nutrient.

Last summer, Ecovative Design applied its cradle-to-cradle process to produce 10,000 organic bricks that were used to build Hy-Fi, a three-tower structure that was installed in the courtyard of the Museum of Modern Art’s PS1 site in Long Island City, N.Y. Ecovative was assisted by architect David Benjamin of The Living design studio (acquired by Autodesk in July), structural engineer Arup, environmental engineer Atelier Ten, and SCAPE Landscape Architecture. 

Sam Harrington, Ecovative’s Building Products Manager, says the bricks were made by combining chopped corn stalks with specially formulated mycelium. The mixture was packed into molds—which can be of any shape—where it self-assembled and solidified into a lightweight, low-cost object. The molds, made from reflective plastic supplied by 3M, were used (with bricks inside them) to accent the tops of the towers. The towers were demolished in September, and the bricks were composted.

Harrington says the lifespan of these organic materials, which Ecovative has dubbed “Myco Foam,” is similar to that of softwood. “If untreated Myco Foam (in the shape of a brick, or anything else) is kept dry and clean within a building assembly, it will last indefinitely. If it’s chipped into small bits, and mixed with moisture and active soil biota, it will compost in a few months.”

Harrington says Ecovative Design’s primary focus is to use ag waste to make rigid-board insulation. 

Read about more innovations from BD+C's 2014 Great Solutions Report

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