February 15 2011

Mushroom Wood: Sustainability with a Great Story

(This topic is part of a facade/material investigation for the Center for Parks & People at Auchentoroly Terrace by Ziger/Snead)

The Omega Center (the first US Living Building) used butt-jointed Mushroom Wood (horizontal and vertical) as a facade material. Photo by Kate at GreenCourage

Mushroom Wood is one of those rare materials that combines natural beauty and sustainability with a great narrative. The samples feel rough and real in your hands. They look tough. More genuine than your average lumber. Out of the four pieces of 1x8 board on the table, two are lightly grooved by a simple wire brush finish and two are deeply excavated to expose the woody texture beneath. This is cypress, mixed with a small quantity of hemlock, and it is VERY sustainable.

"Mushroom Wood is ideal for indoor or outdoor paneling, ceiling treatments, beam wraps, and flooring applications.  While other wood may decorate the surface, our wood speaks." - Antique & Vintage Woods

The Omega Center (the first US Living Building) used butt-jointed Mushroom Wood (horizontal and vertical) as a facade material. Photo by Kate at GreenCourage

Untreated

The term Mushroom Wood is somewhat misleading. This wood is not made from mushrooms, but it has spent the last few years submerged in the moist, fertile humus of commercial mushroom planting beds. You see, the boards were once used as the bins in which mushrooms are grown! Yes you hear that correctly. This environment is very challenging so they choose Cypress (or Hemlock) because it can withstand constant exposure to moisture and soil. Variation in the board finish is largely attributable to the length of time the wood spent in service. Longer exposure means that the acid and water in the soil has had more time to erode the soft wood fibers. A shorter exposure means the wood is more whole. Regardless, the same qualities that make it an excellent choice for mushroom bins makes it a sustainable choice for wood siding, it never needs treatment. No paint. No staining. No sealant. Mushroom wood can just be allowed to age gracefully with minimal maintenance. And it is beautiful.

High Patina Mushroom Wood

High Patina Mushroom Wood

Reclaimed

The story gets even better. Since mushroom farmers need to replace the bin material on a regular basis, there is a constant stream of new Mushroom Wood to be reclaimed. Instead of being thrown into a landfill or chopped up for mulch, this lumber is culled, denailed and sorted to select the most viable pieces. The wood can then be milled like virgin lumber with the note that the uneven finish and varying thicknesses will make the process more laborious and might result in more waste. The important point is that using Mushroom Wood can directly offset the use of virgin wood for siding etc which allows those resources to be allocated more efficiently.

Mushroom farm growing bins. Photo by Jamie Hammel of Antique & Vintage Woods.

Sourcing / Regional

Mushroom Wood is not only Untreated and Reclaimed, it can also be considered a regionally manufactured and extracted material if your project falls within 500 miles of the warehouse (LEED). The manufacturer/reclaimer is Antique & Vintage Woods out of Pine Plains NY and they carry a host of other reclaimed, vintage and antique specialty woods in addition to the Mushroom Wood. It is worth noting that the price point was very competitive with other wood siding options with a wide range of possible milling and installation options.

Low Patina Mushroom Wood

Low Patina Mushroom Wood

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down the company president Jamie Hammel to discuss the product and was thoroughly impressed by the company's knowledge of the product and expertise as it relates to other reclaimed or antique woods. Definitely a good source for Architects and Designers looking for wood with character and a story. I firmly believe that Architecture benefits by using reclaimed because of the patina, the embodied energy, and the historical references embedded in the material.

Ziger/Snead is currently reviewing facade options for The Center for Parks & People at Auchentoroly Terrace which include both Mushroom Wood and Corten AZP. Visit the project page for more information.

For more information on Mushroom Wood or other reclaimed lumber visit the Antique & Vintage Wood website.

posted by Jonas Risen

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