Updated: Oct 27, 2021
Another brief thought experiment:
Imagine what the first Martian habitat for humans would be made out of...
Now, imagine how those materials would make it there...
Last month, I had a conversation with the founder of Redhouse Architecture, Christopher Maurer. Our focus centered on mushrooms, the critical element that initiated an exchange of ideas between an architect and this writer. Redhouse is one of only a handful of architectural firms in consideration for a contract with NASA. Hopefully, in the next decade or so, there will be a mission to Mars. Every ounce of weight on a spaceship equates to thousands of dollars, therefore, the prospect of carrying extreme bulk and weight for building materials is out of the question. Mining and harvesting of rocks on the Red Planet is restrictive for more than just logistical reasons. Nothing comes from nothing, that much is clear. What would constitute the building blocks of the first mission to Mars? What would be an efficient way to establish any kind of significant habitat for current and future missions?
Redhouse has rebuilt infrastructure in Haiti, Malawi, Rwanda and Namibia. In conjunction with MIT, they use Bioterials™ produced from mycelium in waste organic substrates, These materials exhibit properties superior to wood framing in compression, concrete in flexural strength, and EPS in insulation value, and are fire resistant. In Namibia, they use the waste biomass from the pernicious ‘encroacher bush’. The waste is used to create a framework for mycelium to ‘infect’ and grow into bricks. Practical solutions like this are the foundation for potential habitats on Mars. With billions of spores on board the shuttle—relatively paltry in weight—a latent habitat will be on its way to another world. Mushrooms are some of the hardiest organisms on Earth and could provide a substantial supply of Ur-crops, as well.
While the possibilities of using mushrooms and mycelium for disaster zones and Mars habitats is practical and hopeful, funding is a major issue. My own interest in mushrooms stems from my own writing, while Christopher Maurer’s is from a professional and philosophical one, to put it generally. Where we truly coincided was in the frustration at most people’s snap-judgments about mushrooms. Cost and time-efficient, using fungi for growing bricks seems like a no-brainer. But investors are often dismissive of such propositions. Stereotypes ranging from ‘the hippy-dippy thing’, to the hard-headedness about ‘the way things have always been done’, often prevents consideration. While I have no grand delusions about changing the world’s perspective about mushrooms through my own work, Mr. Maurer and I were in absolute agreement as to the need to find a way to move beyond stereotypes. Beyond the need for SFF literature to find new ways of portraying fungi, there also needs to be an effort to shift the general public’s perception, too.
The carbon footprint is greatly reduced by using such breakthroughs as Bioterials™. I believe that real-world efforts like those of Redhouse are what shift the perspective. This kind of sentiment in defense of fungi is beyond curiosity or any kind of literary predilection. In the case of Redhouse and their work across the globe--perhaps, even beyond--mushrooms and their mycelium could be the beginning and the builder of future worlds and much of what lies between. Maybe these kinds of ideas will infect other’s minds in the most hopeful of ways.
For further info on Redhouse and their work
By Hayden Moore
October 27, 2021