MoMA PS1’s Living, Breathing Summer Installation Opens

Steven Thomson Steven Thomson

Hy-Fi, the three-tiered tower that opens today at MoMA PS1 as the 15th edition of the institution’s Young Architects Program, wasn’t so much constructed as it was grown. The core of the temporary installation’s impressive brick-and-mortar construction is a block developed by the work’s architect, David Benjamin of the A+ Award-winning The Living, which represents an industry-changing biodegradable material.

“To create each brick, we mixed up chopped-up discarded cornstalks and the living material of mycelium, which is basically a mushroom root that grows and fuses the cornstalks together,” Benjamin tells Architizer. The mixture melded inside special molds devised by partners at 3M. To test the lightweight material’s strength, the architect sent varying sample shapes to a universal testing machine at Columbia University. “It’s the same lab that tests the cables of the George Washington Bridge for strength,” explains Benjamin. “Basically, the testing machine would crush and pull material, and structural engineers would feed it to the resulting data into a digital model of the whole building, and that would tell us if we were in the range of what was needed for the shape. We could play with the dimensions of the brick, and the shape of the building as a whole.”

The result is a beguiling, undulating building that can withstand hurricane-force winds — as well as the series of heaving summertime parties for which the YAP installations are infamous. Rimming the top of the Eladio Dieste-esque towers is a hyper-reflective material (also developed by 3M) that showers light downward into the installation.

NYC’s humid summer climes are counteracted by a system that draws in cool air at the bottom and pushes out hot air at the top. And while the cornstalk and mushroom-based bio-design is designed to organically return to the earth come September 7, Benjamin sees the material taking root in future structures, telling Architizer, “There’s really no limit.”