Lichenizing a concrete landscape

Inspired by lichens extremophilic trait and its capability of biological weathering, co[MERGE]nt is a speculative material that decomposes concrete waste to create nutrients for soil remediation.

Our material consists of an algal and fungal component, and is a composite organism that could be defined as an artificial lichen, harnessing the lichen’s bio-remedial capacity of biological weathering and applying it at a more efficient time scale.

A project in collaboration with Macarena Barrera, Mia Luong, Paula Andrea Molina, & Crystal Wang


/ lichens
The polyextremophilic organisms that are able to live in other worlds. As mini eco-systems with fungal and algal components, lichens inspired us as design material due to a few key traits: 

Lichens are able to survive and thrive in environments with extreme temperature, radiation, salinity, or pH levels.

Lichen have rhizines: a particular basal attachment that allows the organism to adhere and adapt to a wide range of substrates.

Lichens can survive extreme conditions by entering a state of "suspended animation".
/ symbiogenesisBecoming by living together: from Lynn Margulis’s symbiotic theory. Lichen is a symbol of symbiosis, the emergence of a new life form caused by the merging of separate individuals. The fungi builds the structure and provides nutrients to the algae, and the algae produces carbon for the fungi’s growth & reproduction

Biological weathering

/ design ideation
Set out to design a co-cultured artificial lichen material with engineered fungal and algal components that are highly efficient at biological weathering and the decomposition of concrete into primitive soil.  

/ material system

/ material lifecycle

/ dormancy
co[MERGE]nt is inspired by lichen’s capability for dormancy, as they can survive in extreme conditions by entering a state of “suspended animation”, and they can do so for tens of years of dehydration, until rehydrated.

“Systems only hold together in the long term if the parts consider themselves integral to the whole and if the whole protects the parts, as lichens do. That’s what’s going wrong with us. As individuals, we’re not concerned with the whole.”

- Trevor Goward, Lichenologist


In collaboration with MA Biodesign, Central Saint Martins.

Team members: Macarena Barrera, Mia Luong, Paula Andrea Molina, & Crystal Wang.

Graphics by Macarena Barrera. Animated symbiogenesis image by Crystal Wang. All original photographs. 

Chen, J., Blume, H.-P. and Beyer, L. (2000). Weatheringcof rocks induced by lichen colonization — a review. CATENA, 39(2), pp.121–146.

Dalip Kumar Upreti, Divakar, P.K., Vertika Shukla and Rajesh Bajpai
(2015). Recent advances in lichenology. Volume 2 : modern methods and approaches in lichen systematics and culture techniques. New Delhi, India: Springer.

Wilson, M.J. and Jones, D. (1983). Lichen weathering of minerals: implications for pedogenesis. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, [online] 11(1), pp.5–12.

Du, Z.-Y., Zienkiewicz, K., Vande Pol, N., Ostrom, N.E., Benning, C. and Bonito, G.M. (2019). Algal-fungal symbiosis leads to photosynthetic mycelium. eLife, 8.

Fontaniella, B., Molina, M. and Vicente, C. (2000). An Improved Method for the Separation of Lichen Symbionts. [online] 40, pp.323–328.