Photos by Andrew Nunes
Since 2000, the Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1's Young Architects Program (YAP) has sowed the grounds for the best and brightest emerging minds in architecture and design to create new and innovative projects that stretch the limits of sustainability and environmentally-minded urban construction. This year's winner, The Living architects, under the auspices of principal, David Benjamin, dazzled the YAP's selection panel with Hy-Fi, a locally-sourced, virtually wasteless, and algorithmically-generated biostructure set to make its debut in the courtyard of MoMA PS1 in anticipation of their 2014 Warm Up summer music series. We went behind-the-scenes of Hy-Fi and spoke with creator David Benjamin about his unprecedented triumph in environmentally-minded, structurally-sound bio-design.
"Like all of our projects, we imagine this as kind of a test or a prototype for the architecture of the future," Benjamin tells The Creators Project, in our documentary, viewable above. "We can try to do things differently. We don't have to accept the way that buildings are always designed." Hy-Fi is thus Benjamin's response to and suggestion for a resource-limited Anthropocene. "We were interested in saying, 'Could we create a new material and a new kind of ecosystem of design and manufacturing, and construction that was sustainable in new ways?" One that, in Benjamin's words, "Pushed and tested the limits of what sustainability could be."
To incite his desired paradigm-shift, Benjamin realized that existing construction materials and building processes just wouldn't cut it. Hy-Fi had to be different, from its sourcing, down to its bricks, themselves. He explains, "In this age of globalization, where typically, materials, especially raw materials for building, come from all over the world, we're saying, 'Actually there's some scenarios where we can have a very local economy of materials and energy, a local footprint.'" An effort in reducing the enormously wasteful practices of transporting materials across the globe, Benjamin decided Hy-Fi would look no further than the tri-state area.
He explains, "One of the things that we're experimenting with in the project is a kind of local economy of materials. Everything from the project, in its entire life cycle, comes from a 150 mile radius. Then at the end of the lifespan of the temporary structure, we're going to compost it, again, right here in New York City, and then return that raw material to local community gardens and tree planting. In that sense we're experimenting with a local version of architecture similar to some experiments with the local food movement."
It was no easy task, however, considering that most raw materials are consumed in the construction process of many structures, and unusable after the fact. But Hy-Fi isn't just your regular structure. David Benjamin explains:
"Hy-Fi is a reference to a kind of technical term called hypha, which is the type of living organism that we use to manufacture the building blocks of our project.
In this project, we're using a living organism as a factory. So the living organism of mycellium, or hyphae, which is basically a mushroom root, basically makes our bricks for us. It grows our bricks in about five days with no energy required, almost no carbon emissions, and it's using basically waste— agricultural byproducts, chopped up cornstalks. This mushroom root fuses together this biomass and makes solid bricks which we can kind of tune to be different properties."
Benjamin's malleable bricks allow his team control over the strength, flexibility, and even water-resistance of the structures they're used to build. First designed on the computer, Hy-Fi was a process designed to flow effortlessly between the complicated mathematics of architecture, and the hard-and-dirty real world.
Effectively, it was even a new process in workflow and communication. Says Benjamin, "We would pass off some of the geometry of the project to the company that's manufacturing the bricks, then after the bricks [were] grown and tested, we'd get test results of crushing these bricks, and send that data to the great structural engineers at Arup," who analyzed the structure and provided results, which were then taken back into The Living's algorithmically-run 3D model.
"It's really an important loop for us to do many times in order to get all of the factors right to make this structure that's both new and experimental, and testing something innovative," Benjamin explains, "but also that's safe and able to withstand hurricane winds, and the sun and rain of New York city summers, and the wear and tear of people having giant parties in the courtyard of PS1 inside it."
While Benjamin finds that, "Each architecture project is of course different and with its own challenges," he imagines a future in which architecture as a lofted, singular endeavor, can be made more effective by making it more organic.
He concludes, "If people can take away the idea that new possibilities can be imagined, and then brought into the world and tested, and we can learn something about them, and then kind of take it to the next level afterwards, we hope it can be some message or inspiration."
If the "endless loop" that makes up the three cylinders of David Benjamin's new architecture is any indication, not only should attendees of PS1's 2014 Warm Up events take a moment to immerse themselves in the sustainably-designed, bio-beauty of Hy-Fi, but the builders of the world should take note.