New Buildings Made from Old Materials

  • February 14, 2018

Heading into 2018, housing continues to struggle with a lack of inventory.  In addition to difficulty hiring skilled laborers, rising construction costs are impacting the ability for builders to replenish the buyer demand for supply.  A Cleveland-based architecture firm, Redhouse Studio, is experimenting with a way to reuse construction materials and convert demolition waste, like timber, concrete, and asphalt, into new building materials.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), over 530 million tons of construction waste end up in landfills each year.  If these materials were able to be repurposed and eventually used for new construction projects, the process could lower overall materials cost and also reduce construction waste and pollution.  Redhouse Studio’s lead architect, Christopher Maurer, has developed a biological process that converts construction waste like wood scraps, sheathing, and flooring, into a brick-like building biomaterial bound by mycelium.  In the process, the construction waste is combined with mycelium, which is also the organism that grows mushrooms, and sits anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to form a brick-like shape.  Once the brick has reached the right consistency, it is compacted until it is sturdy enough for construction material. 

In Redhouse Studio’s Cleveland, Maurer and his team have plenty of materials to work with.  In the past 11 years, over 9,000 Cleveland homes have been demolished because of vacancy and other housing problems.  In Maurer’s process, he first grinds the construction waste, like wood to sawdust, and pasteurizes it before adding a small amount of mycelium.  The enzymes it secretes, dissolve the cellulose in the wood and replaces it with its own organisms, rich with chitin, the strongest natural polymer that exists.  Chitin is also found in the exoskeletons and shells of crustaceans and sea life.  While wood, like lumber, timber, sheathing, and flooring, is the best base material to mix with mycelium, Maurer’s team has also had success mixing wood with organic insulation, and drywall, and mixing masonry rubble with another bacteria.  Unfortunately, metal cannot be recycled using this method.

Mycelium is growing in popularity amongst builders and architects because of its unique binding ability.  Maurer plans to use his work to benefit the nonprofit Refugee Response, which employs refugees in the Cleveland area with urban farm work.  If the “bioshelter” idea comes to fruition, relief workers could use mycelium and rubble to rebuild shelter and, in some cases, even food through mushroom growth.  Maurer told Fast Company, “We can promote food security, water security, and provide shelter at the same time using those methods.”

 

Sources: EPA, Fast Company

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