Building Blocks By Nature


Bioscientist Ivana Mik and architect Stijn Dries worked together with nature to create a site-specific installation for the Larnaca Biennale. Building Blocks By Nature is their contribution towards developing innovative building techniques for a circular economy.

The circular structure is left unfinished. The wall is not complete, but it offers hope. It’s shape signifies the shift from a linear to a circular economy. The very matter of the wall is a tangible shift in our attitude towards our natural environment. It is not made, it is grown.

The material for the structure has two components, hemp and mycelium. Industrial hemp sequesters more carbon dioxide per acre than any other crop and reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers in many crop rotation systems. Mycelium is everywhere. A spoon of soil can contain eight kilometers of it and some species can break down heavy toxins. The uses, qualities, and applications of both hemp and fungi are seemingly infinite and we are just beginning to discover them.

In this structure the mycelium grew throughout the hemp-shiv. In doing so, it binds everything together and creates a firm mass. The fact that this material can be made into any three-dimensional structure makes it an attractive material for designers and architects. The installation serves as a symbol of innovation and circularity, as well as an independent artwork and a reference point for the Biennale.

Preceding mycelium structures (like those at MoMA 2014, and DDW 2019) were always supported by another material like wood or metal. Building blocks By Nature is the first truly self-supporting mycelium structure ever made. And, it is the first structure on an architectural scale in the ongoing research project Featuring Fungi.

Click here and learn more about the design

One of the goals of Featuring Fungi is to engage as many people as possible with the potential of biodesign. (social) Media is a good way to reach a large audience but it can’t compete with the physical experience of entering a space. We wanted to engage people by allowing them to see, touch, hear, and smell. At the beginning of this project, Building Blocks of Nature, two things were clear: It would be made with mycelium and situated next to Zouhouri mosque. One of the defining features of the mosque is that it displays so clearly how it was made: By stacking blocks of stone.

To engage both visitors and viewers on (social) media we decided to use the visual aspects of the design for displaying the potential of biodesign. The shape of the of structure relates to the round tower of the mosque. The size and color of the blocks is similar to those of the mosque. These aspects create a visual dialogue that allows you, as a viewer, to imagine the potential of biodesign on a grand scale.

The other sensory aspects are reserved for when you enter the space. If you do, the tasty smell of mushrooms will make your mouth water. Your skin will be delighted as you run your fingers along the soothing texture of that circular wall around you. As the wall around you dampens the clamor of the square, the comparative silence might give you a moment of reflection on the benefits of transitioning to a circular economy.

How it was made

Here's how it starts. The white dust are spores. The seeds of mushrooms

From these spores we grow mycelium. A new organism. The agar plate forces the mycelium to explore in two dimensions. You can however clearly see it's will to form a three dimensionsal web of rhizzea.

The mycelium needs a medium to grow on. For this project we used hemp shiv.

Before scaling the process we ran tests with various species of mycelium and various aggregates to grow them on.

To scale up production we set up shop at Kyriakides Mushrooms in Limassol.

Step 1 · Soak the hemp shiv in water and calcium hydroxide.

Step 2 · Mix the hemp with the mycelium.

Step 3 · Meet our secret weapon; Jelger d'Lorme and put the mix in growing bags. Jelger is a mushroom fanatatic, fantastic carpenter, and loves building guitars. You can find his work


Step 4 · Repeat the process, all day everyday day for a week, untill you have a container full of growing mycelium

Step 5 · Break up your magic bundles and mix again. This time with flour. It's fast food for the fungi and mixing again ensures even growth at the next stage.

Step 6 · Fill the formworks.

Step 7 · Unboxing.

Step 8 · Let it dry

Step 9 · Make the structure.

Step 10 · Reflect. Enjoy your failures & Never give up.
New mushrooms · New spores......

Featuring Fungi would not exist without our Sponsors

Van Eesteren-Fluck en van Lohuizen Stichting

Through subsidies, this foundation stimulates the development of urban development and planning and landscape architecture in the spirit of Van Eesteren and Van Lohuizen. They support projects that connect lessons from the past to current issues. With their help we were able to procure the materials needed to build our structure: inspired by ancient Choirokoita and nature, contributing to new building techniques for a near future.

RVO North Holland gives out subsidies to companies that want to do a feasibility investigation to develop new and sustainable technologies. This de-risks the often expensive R&D trajectories that are necessary for innovation.

Without the hospitality of Kyriakides Mushrooms we would not have been able to execute this project in such a short timeframe. They supplied us with growing chambers, cooling facilities, IBCs, very welcome helping hands, coffees and most important: knowledge!

Larnaka runs for European Capital of Culture 2030. The organisation Larnaca 2030 has given us the opportunity to build our mycelium structure for the Larnaca Biennale and Biodesign Festival. They offered us a workspace and office and both financial as well as productional support.

This can't be the end. What's next?

We hope we’ve inspired you to find out more about Mycelium. If you asked us for one recommendation, we would tell you to go out into the forest or read Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake. Get it from your local bookshop. It’s a great place to start.

We love tinkering, discovering, and creating beauty. We will continue discovering the magical kingdom of fungi by creating inspiring objects, installations, and spaces.

We are partnering with events to bring the magic of Fungi to a broad audience. Our vision is to create ephemeral mycelium structures that produce mushrooms during the event. These delicious snacks can be served to the participants and visitors. After the event the structure will simply dissolve into nature. This addresses a major problem for event organizers: mountains of waste.

We believe in the potential of this material to replace a lot of the oil based insulation in buildings and packaging. There are many practical and legal hurdles before it can have a significant impact on the way we build but that is precisely why arts and events can have a significant role in disseminating mycomaterial before it ever hits the market as a building material.

If you want to work with us in any of these domains: reach out!

Data & Credits

Cliënt: Self initiated

Location: Zouhouri square, Larnaca, Cyprus

Architecture: Stijn Dries

Mycolgy: Ivana Mik

Built area: 2,5 m²

Project date: 2023

Project complete: 2023

Total budget: undisclosed

Photography: Stijn Dries, Ivana Mik, Myrto Economides


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CC Stijn Dries