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Tubular Tower of Eco Bricks Lands In MoMA PS1's Courtyard

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Say hi to Hy-Fi, this year's winner of MoMA PS1's annual Young Architects Program. Designed by David Benjamin of The Living, Hy-Fi is made of some innovative materials—like mushroom roots and cornstalks—all of which are biodegradable, so when the exhibit is over, the structure won't be thrown in the trash, but will be composted. For the next few months, it will provide shade and seating for visitors attending PS1's Warm Up concert series.

The 10,000 lower bricks, developed by the company Ecovative, are made of corn stalks and a substance called mycelium, which is found in mushroom roots. Once the materials are mixed, they self-assemble into any shape you put them in. Each brick "starts from nature and will return to nature," said Melissa Jacobsen, Ecovative's director of first impressions (that's her real title).

The upper bricks, which were actually used as the molding trays to form the lower bricks, are made of multi-layer film developed by 3M, which says it is the most reflective material in the world. It has a reflectivity of over 98 percent. According to Sarah Nielsen Claypool, communications manager for 3M Architectural Markets, it is even more reflective than mirrors.

Benjamin said he loves the new material that uses agricultural byproducts with no waste and no carbon emissions, and he hopes this "can create an architecture with atmosphere and spatial effects." It certainly looked cool and felt cool during Thursday's high temperatures. He sees this installation as a test of how viable it is as a real world building material. He also said the bricks were laid by real brick masons and their strength was tested by Columbia University scientists. In his formal remarks, Benjamin praised the entire YAP contest as an "open-ended experiment."

When renderings were first revealed for Hy-Fi, the structure was a reddish color. But now it is off-white. Why the change? Benjamin said that once he and his team saw the completed, but unpainted, structure, they loved it so much that they thought it was perfect as is. However, if you want to see a piece of it painted in the originally billed reddish color, he said it will be on display at MoMA's main branch on East 53rd Street in Manhattan.

Funny story: The lower bricks, while strong, are quite light and you're unlikely to hurt yourself if you hit one of them. Well, one of the interns for The Living said Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium and grand poobah of all things science, happened to visit MoMA PS1 during Hy-Fi's construction, which took about four weeks. The intern said that he picked up one of the bricks and proceeded to jokingly hit people over the head it.

MoMA PS1's Warm Up outdoor music series kicks off this Saturday, June 28 at 3 p.m. It will continue every Saturday through September 6, providing ample opportunities to experience mushroom bricks IRL.


—Evan Bindelglass is a local freelance journalist, photographer, cinephile, and foodie. You can e-mail him, follow him on Twitter @evabin, or check out his personal blog.
· Young Architects Program [official]
· Young Architects Program coverage [Curbed]

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