Maria Gutierrez
Elise Zilius

Document Type

Thesis, Senior




Spring 5-2021


Organic design, Ecology, Materiality




Environmental Design | Other Architecture | Other Ecology and Evolutionary Biology | Other Microbiology


The Anthropocene has stripped the planet of its resources, leaving behind an abundance of contamination. The built environment no longer meets the standards set by our turbulent planet. Humankind has lost the privilege of agency in design and construction. Construction methods have failed to evolve concurrently to the intense accumulation of waste; remaining firmly rooted in the materiality of the past, they have upheld architectural notions of stagnancy, cleanliness, and hygiene and ignore the rapidly changing conditions of the environment. This investigation uses contamination to fuel mycelial growth and construct emergent forms whilst executing remediation strategies for polluted sites of wildfires, oil spills, and landfills. Environmental contamination and destruction will now serve a material purpose in architecture, redefining the concept of ‘waste’ as ‘resource’. Harnessing mycelium’s digestive power to decompose toxic waste and pollutants, this design investigation presents a new method of construction that accounts for an evolution of growth and decay, allowing natural processes to determine the form, material, and aesthetic of the built environment. Spreading across a landscape from inoculated nodes, mycelial growth forms a network over the contaminated areas dictating its form in response to the substrate of each polluted area and the site’s environmental conditions. The cyclical processes of growth and decay adapt to the changing site conditions of the polluted areas becoming substantially more resilient over time. Employing nature’s cyclical processes of growth and decay, this constantly evolving architecture will unseat humankind’s stagnant ideas of space. Designing with living organisms restructures the deeply rooted hierarchy in architectural processes relegating man from sole decision-maker to indirect contributor. This ideological shift accepts its visual manifestation of mycelium as an aesthetic repugnance and defies the firmly established notions of hygiene and cleanliness so deeply rooted in the visual language of our society. As environmental contamination continues to infiltrate every corner of the earth, the resultant anthropogenic architecture will morph in accordance. Incorporating living material in the form of mycelial hybrids into design practice, by taking a more material, spatial, and aesthetic approach to sites of decay, has the potential to create a more adaptable and evolving architectural response to reshape our relationship to the environment. Anthropocentric destruction has transfigured our world into a planet of contamination, humankind must relinquish control over the built environment and give agency to living organisms to allow for a new architectural era of evolution, adaptability, and resiliency.



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.