Challenging the status quo with new ways of building

“It weighs nothing. So you can, this is a brick, but you can, everybody can lift this.” The building brick Lucas de Man is showing, is made out of mushrooms. He thinks it’s the future. Lucas de Man is the CEO and founder of company New Heroes. “Within five years you’re going to see way more furniture like this, way more walls, way more use of all kinds of bio-based materials.

Type Update
Published on 17 October 2019
Part of Embassy of Circular & Biobased Building
Challenging the status quo with new ways of building
Part of Embassy of Circular & Biobased Building

Lucas is one of the partners of the Embassy of Circular and Biobased Building. He and his team are using biobased materials – materials that biodegrade and are sometimes even living – to make what they call a Growing Pavilion for Dutch Design Week. It is five meters high, nine meters wide. It’s, it’s sort of cylinder form. There are two entrances or exits.And yes, it’s made of mushrooms. Or, more specifically, mycelium.

“The walls are mycelium, so mushrooms, the floors are lisdodde, cattails. The ceiling is cotton. Everything there is produced by natural materials. Some of the things we do have never been done, like the walls from mycelium. It took us two years developing those walls. We wanted to show the aesthetics of bio-based materials.”

The Growing Pavilion will also include circular building materials – materials that can be recycled or reused again. The roof is one of them. The pavilion has a reverse peak on its roof, so that rainwater can be collected in a basin where plants can grow. It will be a dynamic, living space, where mushrooms grow out of tables and can be eaten on the spot, as well as having an expo of other bio-based designers.

Lucas De Man - credits: Anne Harbers

“Our first purpose is to show the construction world it can be done. Second is to show the people how amazing and beautiful working with biobased materials is. Because we really have to start rethinking: how are we going to use materials in our daily lives that are helping the world instead of destroying it.”

Which is where the Embassy of Circular and Biobased Building comes in. Rob Adams is its curator, and like Lucas, he wants to tackle how we currently think about building. “It has to do with a mindset. The dominant logic is so strong in this industry. We are doing it for such a long time in just this one way. It’s about challenging the status quo of the construction sector. We can bring creative thinking together with doing stuff. Designers can show what can be done to challenge this dominant way of thinking. New ideas, new ways of working, new ways of conceptualizing new ways of building. That’s what this whole embassy is all about.”

Photo by Company New Heroes
Photo by Company New Heroes

Lucas and his company aren’t afraid of experimenting. “With bio-based, the first phase was to try to make it look like normal products. We say let’s make it aesthetic. Like a natural product. This is not just made in a fabric or made out of clay. This is made out of living material.”

Pascal Leboucq is the designer of the Growing Pavilion: “For every material we use in it, we show what the natural element the material is made of as much as possible. This way the pavilion gets a unique, organic texture, color and experience. In addition to showing the beauty and power in the construction of the pavilion itself, we fill the interior of the pavilion with grown design objects. They show visitors of the pavilion how beautiful grown furniture, lamps, cupboards and other objects are.”

Two pavilions

The Embassy of Circular and Biobased Building actually has two pavilions at Dutch Design Week this year. Both challenge the visitor to rethink how we build, and with what. But the second pavilion – the Bio Base Camp – is quite different from Lucas’s Growing Pavilion. It was designed by architect Marco Vermeulen. “Fossil materials, like cement and steel emit a lot of CO2, especially while producing them. In the whole world, some 5% of the total CO2 emission is cement related. That’s quite a lot. Bio-based obviously is related to using natural material. But what needs to be added is that it should also be modular, which means that you can not only capture the CO2, but also that it can be reused again. So it’s a way of using natural materials, as well as prolonging the time that it can be reused.”

Biobasecamp by Studio Marco Vermeulen

Just as Lucas sees a future in mycelium, Marco sees it in wood. Specifically in something called CLT, or Cross Laminated Timber: thick pieces of wood glued on top of each other in different directions to create something that is just as strong as concrete, but much more efficient. The building market in the Netherlands is going full tilt at the moment, with no end in sight. One million new homes need to be built by 2035. Using CLT could help, Marco says. “This could really help the existing way of building. It does not necessarily need to completely replace the existing building sector at once, but it could be an extra motor, to help to reach the construction of those enormous amounts of houses.”

Not only could it help to reach the construction of enormous amounts of houses, but it could be important in our fight against climate change.

“Right now there are very complex and very expensive machines being developed to extract CO2. But of course already we learned in school, there is one great machine which is called the tree, which of course does that already, and is capable of capturing CO2. We calculated that if this building task of 1 million houses would be constructed in the conventional way, about 50 megaton of CO2 would be emitted. And if we build them in a bio-based manner, it would not be emitted, but at the same time, you could store another 50 mega ton of CO2 in the wood. So the difference between conventional building and bio-based building would be around 100 megaton.”

The pavilion is made out of columns, actually trunks of poplar wood. They used to be on the verges of the highway between Eindhoven and ‘s Hertogenbosch, but they had to be cut down because of their age. And on top, the deck is made out of cross laminated timber. “So you see the original resource, they had the tree, the trunk, and you see the potential of CLT at the same time.” 

Lucas hopes for a double effect: “That when the people come to the pavilion, the experts will say, wow, you did this already. Wow. And that the normal people say what a cool building. What is this? Is this mushroom? No way! I believe that’s the only way to really reach to people. Let them hear it, feel it, do it, touch it. See it.”

Photo by Company New Heroes

The World Design Embassies are a programme of the Dutch Design Foundation, and work year-round with partners and stakeholders to look at the role that design can play in the development of new perspectives and concrete solutions to the challenges we face as a society in a quickly-changing world.

The Embassies are also a part of Dutch Design Week, where the world comes to Eindhoven to discover innovation through the eyes of designers, design thinking and design skills. During Dutch Design Week, the Embassies take on a physical form – in exhibitions, lectures, discussions and workshops – so that ideas, expertise and insight can be shared, with experts but also with the general public.

In this series, we take a look at each of the six Embassies in detail and through this, we will explore the challenges and solutions for future societies. Think Climate change, urbanization, the increasing use of technology in our lives – where is it all leading, and how can we shape our society around those things in a positive, meaningful way? Don’t forget to check our other episodes on the embassies of mobility, water, safety, sustainable design and health.  And do join us during Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, from October 19th until the 27th 2019. Hope to see you there.

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