Planting season is just a month away, and while green thumbs throughout the region are dusting off their grow lights and readying their soil for spring flowers and vegetables, senior industrial design students Brian McClellan and Mercan Sisman – from Philadelphia University’s Kanbar College of Design, Engineering & Commerce – are already deep in the process of growing something quite different: furniture.
The project began as a conversation with classmates about sustainable design and the possibilities of building with living materials. Soon, McClellan and Sisman found themselves researching ways to grow objects naturally as an alternative to using harmful plastics and other materials. Eventually, they landed on the mycelium organism, essentially the rooting system for mushrooms. By studying the way the organism grows and travels, McClellan and Sisman discovered that, in a controlled environment, they could force the mycelium to grow in different ways inside forms or molds. For their senior projects, the pair decided to use reishi and oyster mushrooms, two naturally wood decomposing species. They found an organic mushroom grower in California who could provide the substrate (or food) on which the mushrooms would live.