A Mycelium Connection: A study of the influence of mycelium bio-composites’ senso-aesthetics on disgust, and other barriers to uptake in architecture
Mycelium bio-composites’ temporality, and material-meaning, provide architecture a novel solution for both resource and well-being crises. New materialist, growing design practices offer an opportunity to realise mycelium bio-composites’ full holistic potential by acknowledging the evocation of meaning by materials’ senso-aesthetics and their ability to generate positive perceptions and favour.
This research employs a growing design framework in its endeavour to understand the role of perception, disgust, and other barriers to the uptake of mycelium bio-composites in architecture. Adaptive digital and analogue design methods were utilised to engage this biological organism’s agency and the uncertainties that co-creating with it entails. A tinkering process helped to understand the behaviours and ideal growth conditions of mycelium and produced a materials library of mycelium bio-composites; its reception defined the trajectory of this thesis. Disgust was identified as a potential barrier to mycelium bio-composites in an industry tethered to industrial standardisation and an expectation for permanence.
Existing mycelium bio-composite, and innovation diffusion, research is limited by their collective cognitive focus on production and technical performance. This research acknowledges the influence of emotions on decision-making, through its investigation into how multi-sensory, meaningful materials experiences affect consumer perceptions and decision-making. It conducts a material experience study using survey and video observation methods to understand early adopters’ subjective experiences of mycelium bio-composites.
The study confirmed disgust and mycelium bio-composites’ temporality as potential barriers to industry uptake. The key finding, however, was the reported influence of touching mycelium bio-composites on decision-making, as well as its psychophysiological benefits: to calm; and to stimulate. An opportunity to present these results to industry representatives at the NZIA Design Awards was hindered by covid restrictions that necessitated a virtual presentation. The inability to share the physicality of the material, and its emotive influence, confirmed the limitations of a fundamentally occularcentric industry, whose material representation is predominantly audio-visual and focused on mechanical functions. To optimise the holistic benefits of this material, further research is required to confirm and quantify this information for high-level architectural adoption. More broadly, however, it invites the architectural industry to adopt a new materialist paradigm that values and engages materials’ agency and multi-sensory, psychophysiological impacts.