Mushroom Farm

[storefront] Olson Kundig Architects is an experiment in design, culture and social practice.

Olson Kundig Architects created [storefront] in the summer of 2011, [storefront] (located in Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square) has served as a venue for an array of installations and events that are free and open to the public. In February of 2012, we partnered with Seattle-based collective called CityLab7 to create Mushroom Farm—an installation that stemmed from the firm’s interest in organic food production and the creation of new forms of urban farming.

The goals of Mushroom Farm were to raise awareness about sustainability, organic farming and new food systems for cities.

Title: Mushroom Farm
Design Firm: Olson Kundig Architects
Design Team: Alan Maskin – Curator, Gabriela Frank – Coordinator, Michael Picard – Coordinator, CityLab7 – Collaborator, Schuchart/ Dow – General Contractor
Category: Professional

Buckets of used coffee grounds from three local coffee shops once destined for the trash were collected. The spent grounds were then pasteurized and inoculated with mushroom spores by a local farmer. The fertile grounds were placed inside a custom greenhouse that we designed using three-dimensional modeling software. The greenhouse was built with repurposed plywood that was originally used for concrete formwork, also destined for a landfill.

Mushroom Farm encouraged visitors to consider new definitions and possibilities for the future of urban agriculture. The installation was open every day and functioned as a community living room with seminars, films, and lectures on urban organic farming. Multiple programs included lectures, seminars and harvest meals that were attended by farmers, politicians, urban planners, local developers, mycology enthusiasts and organic food lovers.

By successfully building a farm and growing food in the storefront, we demonstrated a new form of urban farming that is also economical. Mushroom Farm was designed and built in four weeks, and was promoted through the use of social media. Mushroom Farm was featured in The New York Times, Metropolis, Treehugger and a host of blogs about design and sustainability. Today Mushroom Farm remains as a sought-after solution.

Mushroom Farm was created to convene the public around a critical environmental issue. The urban terrain is ripe for investigation—rooftops, alleys, exterior and interior blank walls, planting strips and parking lots all pose as potential locations for future farm “land.” With the success of Mushroom Farm, we hope to inspire others to consider alternate strategies for cultivation and modalities for feeding people in the future.

Installed at [storefront] Olson Kundig Architects, Mushroom Farm invited visitors to consider the far-reaching impacts of one seemingly simple lifestyle choice—purchasing a cup of coffee—as a nexus for sustainable awareness, community-building, and a model for future urban agricultural practice. While most coffee grounds enter a traditional waste stream after a barista pulls a shot, Mushroom Farm re-purposed them into a growing medium for oyster mushrooms.

The space itself was divided into two parts: the front half contained the twelve foot by sixteen foot mushroom growing tent, while the back half accommodated a twenty foot-long table made from reclaimed timbers for community gatherings, lectures and lunches. The ribs of the growing tent were made from reclaimed plywood from used concrete formwork that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill; metal conduit functioned as shelves and held the 215 mushroom-growing bags.

Olson Kundig Architects and CityLab7, a Seattle-based group of collaborators who received grants from Invoking the Pause to explore issues related to climate, worked closely to develop the concept for the installation. Mushroom Farm was on view at [storefront] Olson Kundig Architects from February 21, 2012 through March 23, 2012.

For each installation Olson Kundig Architects partners with community members who we choose to promote, advocate and create something with. In each instance we ask, “What can we do together that we can’t do apart?”

Our team worked closely to develop the concept for the installation, along with Schuchart/Dow, the general contractor who led the fabrication and sourcing of the donated construction materials. Members from all three organizations teamed up to build the structure by hand.

Olson Kundig and Schuchart/Dow worked together using building information modeling (BIM) software to determine the most efficient configuration for cutting down the donated materials. The University of Washington College of Built Environments permitted the team to use its CNC machine (a Computer Numerical Control device) for precision cutting and fabrication.

Made from reclaimed plywood that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill, the ribs of the structure also functioned as shelves that held 215 mushroom growing bags. The structure was wrapped with a layer of heat-sensitive plastic sheeting; after the quick application of a torch, the plastic became taut, creating a cocoon-like form through which visitors could walk. Once the mushrooms had grown.

Posted in 2013 Winners.

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