Hack the Root: from waste to living building materials

Hack the Root, is a piece of installation artwork by architectural technologist Mae-Ling Lokko, whose passion is to crate value from materials that otherwise would have been discarded or forgotten.

The installation was commissioned by Liverpool Biennale and RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) North, the core pieces of which are ‘growing trays’ in the shape of building blocks, containing mycelium (a vegetative part of a fungus) that is fed with hemp agricultural waste.

The work gently provokes the viewers to ponder upon food waste in a global context and what bio-technology such as utilizing mycelium to up-cycle materials that are considered as agro-waste such as coconut shell, hemp by transforming them into usable building blocks.

Though recycling is a familiar concept in most of our daily lives, upcycling and utilizing technology to reduce waste and make the world we live a more sustainable one are less so. For me that is the beauty of the installation.

When being asked to describe what she does in one sentence, Mae-Ling Lokko said that her practise is to take the word’s most underutilized resource, in terms of waste, and up-cycles them. By bringing the concept of upcycling into the art domain, it enables the public to image these materials in a new way, other than just thinking of them as waste materials.

As part of the exhibition, the artist also talked about, in her view, that the beauty of the installation rests in both its social and material scale: it was through communal efforts that the ‘building blocks’ were ‘sowed’, grown, harvested, and dried; and it was in the lab, visible in a public space, where the public was able to witness the transformation of the materials, from the individual pieces such as hemp agro-waste, mycelium, water into building blocks that are solid, transportable, recyclable, and beautiful in terms of both their shapes and utilization.

It is said that art often is the window and the entry point for experiencing beauty. By bringing industrial design and architectural technology into an art space, Mae-Ling Lokko brought these up-cycling materials and bi-technologies to the public’s attention so as to foster new ways of looking and thinking, both of which, in my view, are wanted, and in desperate shortage in terms of how to make the world we live in a more sustainable and beautiful one.

Hack the Root installation is part of Liverpool Biennial 2018. It is currently exhibited until 28th October 2018 at RIBA North – National Architecture Centre, 21 Mann Island, Liverpool, L3 1BP. Free Entry.

Author: Caroline Wadhams.

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