Campus Life

Mari Hulick standing in front of a gallery

Photo by JD Beltran

Material Change

By Matt Itelson

Mushrooms are not just for ingesting. They can be engineered into sturdy materials like mycelium composite, used to make designer handbags, furniture, insulation, organic brick and much more. Students and professionals alike will soon have access to samples of mycelium composite and other wares at the SF State Sustainable Materials Learning Library.

Created and built by students in the School of Design, it will be the only materials library dedicated to sustainable goods at a West Coast university.

Each student is required to create a tile of their own, featuring a material sample that they have sourced from manufacturers and industry resources worldwide. Each of the 60 tiles includes a description of the material and a QR code that leads to a website with more details. The 60 tiles will also be tactile — visitors can touch and hold the materials.

Students in the “Design Gallery: Exhibitions and Communications” class began to build the library in spring 2023. They netted a finalist position in the 2023 International Biodesign Challenge Summit in New York, where they gave presentations at the Museum of Modern Art and other venues.

Visual Communication Design major Jacksaline Perez says the class and visit to New York were full of “wow” moments. She says she can’t stop talking about how much she learned about the power of storytelling, teamwork and networking, on top of sustainability. Although she has completed the class, she has returned often to volunteer and support other students.

“Broaden your horizons, and if your brain hurts, take a step back and come look at it again tomorrow,” Perez tells students. “Every part of the thinking process is insightful within itself.”

From the spores up, every aspect of the library is built with an emphasis on sustainable practices. Samples of materials are placed on sustainable plywood sheets supported with novel hempcrete bases. Lecturer Faculty JD Beltran emphasizes the imperative for sustainability in each task.

“A number of [students] actually wanted to use glue guns. I said no, because you are perpetuating the problem,” says Beltran, a member of the San Francisco Arts Commission who also runs a consulting firm, the Center for Creative Sustainability. “To the extent that you create a design practice that really concentrates on your commitment to sustainability, that is your small part in saving the world and [addressing] climate change.”

Beltran made her own contribution to the collection: a candle she calls “Hope.” Described by Beltran as more of a conceptual piece, it is accompanied by a quote from Jane Goodall: “I like to envision the whole world as a jigsaw puzzle. … If you look at the whole picture, it is overwhelming and terrifying, but if you work on your little part of the jigsaw and know that people all over the world are working on their little bits, that’s what will give you hope.”

The Sustainable Materials Learning Library is planned to open in spring 2024 in Humanities 130. And, of course, all materials in the ribbon-cutting ceremony will be sustainable.