Walk into the West Oakland headquarters of Brent Bucknum’s ecological engineering firm, and you feel as if you were still outside. Large windows let in sheets of sunlight, tables are built from whole trees, and a functioning indoor wetland takes up a sizeable portion of the main room, filling the indoor space with the sound of falling water.
It’s an appropriate setting. A native of Philadelphia, Bucknum designs with the dual goals of ecological revitalization and community building in mind. Hence his firm’s name: Hyphae Design Lab. Hyphae not only references the Bay Area’s ‘hyphy’ hip-hop movement, but the little- known mycelium fungus as well. Though often overlooked, hyphae are responsible for transmitting nutrients throughout natural food webs, a crucial ecosystem function. Bucknum hopes his work with Hyphae Design Lab will play a similar role in the built world, acting as a point of connection between engineers, landscape architects and policy makers, in order to address issues that conventional design systems largely gloss over.
With roles in high-profile projects like the California Academy of Science’s living roof, Hyphae’s reputation for innovative ecological design is growing. More ambitious projects are in the works, including a plan to improve soil and air quality in West Oakland superfund sites through urban forestation projects. Bucknum recently took time out to talk design, his vision for the future, and Hyphae’s upcoming projects. Below are excerpts of the conversation.