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Casting with living materials

Vitruvius, suggested that ‘Architecture is the imitation of nature’. Through biophilia we seek forms in nature which inspire the design of new buildings and through biomimicry we seek a structural understanding of biological systems to inform the engineering of our buildings. What if we could go much further? What happens when we become Architects of nature?

MArch winter term seminar, 2019.

Masters Architectural Technology Studio at Newcastle University in the School of Architecture. 


4th Order: Casting with living materials at the Bio Design Lab, Devonshire building.


Led by dr. Martyn Dade-Robertson, Thora H Arnardottir & Dilan Ozkan.


Students: Tori Ellis, Sarah Hollywell, Josh Higginbottom, Sarah Rogers, Jack Ingham, Lydia Mills, Josie Foster

Architecture students from levels 5 and 6 concluded their exploration into building with a living material with an exhibition at the Laing Gallery. Their investigation was carried out in the Bio Design Lab at Newcastle University, allowing the students to interact and conduct experiments in a sterile and contained laboratory environment. The aim was also to gain experience in the lab working with Oyster Mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus, spawn and mixing it in with substrates into various moulds. The students were asked to design moulds that questioned the semiotics of the material and to enable, through interaction between the hyphae branching and the nutrients, the mycelium to join and form structures.


The seminar included several lectures and workshops, hands-on laboratory practice and an exhibition at the end. 


We will play an architectural game which will allow us to explore not only the material properties of mycelium-based materials but also the semiotics of the material.

Broadly speaking, there are three classical architectural orders: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. Each order is defined by a scale and characterised by columns and capitals, which grow in complexity. The columns are highly abstracted trees, with each order becoming more complex in terms of ornamentation – taking direct references from nature – moving from symbolic to iconic presentation.

If we see the classical orders, in Vitruvian terms, as getting closer to an imitation of nature, then what if our capital becomes nature? What will become the 4th Order?

By focusing on exploring not only, the material properties of mycelium-based materials but the semiotics of the material, the seminar aims to define the 4th classical order after the three ancient Greek architectural columns. The Capital represents a junction between two elements and questions how the mycelium material interacts with those elements. To what extent will the mycelium take its own form?


Mycelium growth

The mycelium growth in different substrates was monitored and photographed. Here two different substrates are used: cardboard and coffee and agar with malt and beef extract.


Few of the exhibited artifacts showing different morphology of the mycelium material and aesthetic.

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