Mycelium Chair

Design Challenge

How Might We create a circular future to confront the current 'fast furniture' crisis with bio-degradable materials?

Design Solution

Mycelium Chair provides a furniture prototype with an in-house bio-fabrication approach to decentralize the traditional furniture manufacturing industry and add biodegradable features and multi-life-cycle options for a circular economy. An E-commerce platform (E for eco-friendly) is built to fulfill the consumer market in a more sustainable and customized way.


3D Printing, CNC Milling, Figma, Photoshop, Illustrator

My Role

Research, Brainstorm, Concept, Strategy, Digital Fabrication, Material System, LCA (Life-Cycle Assessment), Front-End Prototyping


Zhishen Chen, Allison Karp


2 months


✨  Ideation from a workshop hosted by IDEO Cambridge + Circular Economy Symposium At Harvard, experimenting site provided by Active Learning Lab from Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS)

Problem Finding - Fast Furniture Crisis

“It’s usually new furniture that’s being tossed,” … “It’s things like a chair that’s missing a leg or things with cosmetic damage to them. That’s because it’s just not built to last and there aren’t repair programs for it. It was intended to have a short lifespan.”

-Ashlee Piper

How To Unleash A Circular Economy?
- Answered by IDEO Circular Economy Workshop

On April 28th, 2023, IDEO Cambridge held a workshop themed Unleashing Circular Innovation with Circular Economy Symposium At Harvard. During the workshop, I learned some essential design guidelines for creating a circular and sustainable economy and tried to brainstorm the solution for my research interest: the fast furniture crisis.

Design Guideline

I was also told to apply the circular economy design principles to a specific product during the workshop. In my case, how can the four directions: mindful of material, build to last, recyclability, and responsible disposal attached to a circular chair design become the starting point of brainstorming my new chair prototype? Then I came out with a material innovation using mycelium, and it would have the potential to fulfill the other guidelines.

Material Substitution
Material Elimination
Material Innovation
Digital Complement
Standardize Part
Design For Repair
Knowledge Network
Grow With Me
Design For Disassembly
Mono Material
Smart Sorting
Take Back
Subscription Service
Mycelium is a novel bio-material easily found in people’s daily lives. Different temperatures/pH levels/mixins can provide diversity.
Mycelium Chair - BUILD TO LAST
Mycelium has long-durability, can be standardized, and has the regrowth capability to self-repair. It can be easily grown at home kitchen
Mycelium Chair - RECYCLABILITY
Mycelium form can be easily deformed and disassembly. Its viability can make mono-materiality possible for a lot of products.
Mycelium is a bio-material that is 100% biodegradable and provides nourishment for the soil, allowing the product to enter multiple life cycles.

Design Prototype A - The Making of Joinery Chair

I started looking for digital fabrication techniques in schools to experiment with my biodegradable chair prototype. I first started using CNC milling for manufacturing two foam molds containing the raw mycelium material to grow into different chair pieces. And then manually assemble each component into a whole chair. I created the protocol for the entire manufacture process.

However, during the making process, one full-size chair was contaminated with a mold called Trichoderma, which can be commonly found in nature...and the mycelium wouldn't grow because of the disinhibition effect. The number of final products has to be reduced to only one chair.

What's Not Right?

Pain Point 1 - This mycelium chair prototype still has to produce a lot of different molds for each chair component since each part is very different which would generate a lot of carbon emissions and waste.
Pain Point 2 - This mycelium chair prototype lacks of customization process and can hardly fullfill the need of diversification from the current consumer market.

Design Prototype B - The Making of Puzzle Chair

After realizing the issues of excessive mold making from the first chair prototype, my teammates and I decided to switch our strategy to modulize the chair pieces so people don't have to produce a lot of molds to make their bio-degradable chairs.

We were inspired by the replicable puzzle that can be made into something significant from much smaller pieces. This time, we used 3d printing technology to manufacture the smaller-size mold that can be used multiple times.

Front-End Developing - E-Commerce Platform Buildup

An E-commerce platform (E for eco-friendly) is built to fulfill the consumer market more sustainably and customized way. I used Grasshopper and Shapediver to develop this front-end prototyping. This E-commerce platform aims to facilitate eco-friendly consumer behavior and create a sustainable and circular furniture economy to counter the current fast-furniture industry.

Click Here To Create Your Self-Customized Mycelium Puzzle Chair And Share It With Us! ↗

Performance Testing - Compression Test

How Much Weight Can Mycelium Material Hold?

After the design making, we were curious about some features that could scientifically turn the new material into the market. The first question is how much weight can the mycelium material hold since we will make it into a chair. We used the compression testing machine at Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and played with different mixins.

We found the mycelium brick with Guar Gum would have less deformation with the same load, while the one with Heavy Mix performed worse even though it added density to the material itself.

Performance Testing - Regrowth Test

Design For Repair

Another feature we are curious about is the regrowth function since it is really the essential feature to make the chair last longer. We manually broke a mycelium brick corner and reattached them to observe how the regrowth performed under the microscopic view. Only within six days, the brick returned to a whole piece, and let it grow for six more days, the reattaching part became even more connected and robust.

System Map - What Is A Sustainable Material Flow Like?

For the material Geography, the supply would be from various daily cases, including food waste from restaurants, grocery stores, home kitchens, or sawdust from carpentry workshops. After sterilizing these sources,  they will become the substrate. Some other artifacts in order to produce our product, such as the 3d-printed biodegradable mold, will also be manufactured in the same place, either the local lab or factory; they would be packaged to ship all these semi-finished products to the home. This will enable a household manufacturing process with only flour, water, and an oven. When people want to dispose of the chair, they can dispose of it in their backyard or collect it through local farming and forestry initiatives for soil enrichment, entering into another life cycle to create products through vegetable or timber harvesting.

LCA - How Can Mycelium Help For Furniture's Life Cycle?

The LCA of traditional chair goes through the upstream stage, core tage, and downstream stage, each process would need to take transports, resources, energy, materials and fuel, and from supply to production to the use and disposal would generate a massive amount of waste and emissions.


Our mycelium chair toolkit would first reduce the energy cost from transport since the material can be sourced easily from local disposal and compost. The chair pieces are simplified from the modulization method, so there would be few semi-finished products manufacturing process. In the core stage, lightweight and mono-materiality would increase transportation efficiency, and assembling chairs biologically with regrowth features can also reduce energy and resource costs. In the downstream stage, the regrowth function would help the chair to last longer by easy replacement. And when people want to dispose of the chair, the bio-degradability part would allow the chair to enter another life cycle. All these processes would help to reduce waste and CO2 emissions from different approaches.


Wrap It Up

This is a fun experimenting with daily product that is not sustainable, but with material innovation, technology and user experience design, a circular economy could be unleashed. It exemplifies a circular economy by utilizing mycelium as a sustainable material to design chairs. By incorporating mycelium, a renewable and biodegradable resource, the waste and reliance on traditional materials can be reduced. This innovative approach promotes sustainability and a closed-loop system. It showcases the potential for nature-inspired design principles in furniture production, fostering a regenerative manufacturing approach.

Next Step

- Make an entire piece of mycelium puzzle chair as an enhanced final product showcase.
- Launch the mycelium chair product and customized website to start a circular business.