Growing up in Eindhoven—the Netherlands’ City of Light—Bob Hendrikx always had an appreciation for big ideas. As a kid, he was immersed in the story of the Phillips Brothers, who in 1891 purchased a warehouse in town and started manufacturing carbon filament lamps.
“What they did was so unique and special and was rolled out all over the world,” Hendrikx said in a call.
Now, he has some big ideas of his own.
The 26-year-old inventor recently launched the Loop Living Cocoon, a biodegradable coffin. He makes it from mycelium, the vegetative part of a fungus. It starts out white and wispy—somewhere between cobweb and cotton candy. But it starts to look more like styrofoam, or even leather, once it’s dried and treated. Hendrikx can grow one of his cocoons in just seven days. It costs €1,500 (or about $1,800) and is available throughout Europe.
“The whole coffin is an organism,” Hendrikx said.
Once it’s in the ground, the coffin biodegrades in 30 to 45 days. It leaves behind a rich community of microorganisms, which feast on the body. Decomposition in a traditional coffin can take 20 years. While research is still ongoing, Hendrikx estimates Loop Living Cocoon users will decompose in just two to three years. Instead of leaving behind wasted wood or brass handles, the fungi clean the soil, seeing as they’re hungry for oils, metals, and plastics, too.
“It doesn’t make sense to cut down a tree or burn our bodies because we should be added value,” Hendrikx said.
The seeds of this idea were planted last fall, when Hendrikx presented his living house—basically a giant, organic Tamagotchi—at Dutch Design Week 2019. The life-size prototype was also made of mycelium.
A woman approached Hendrikx and jokingly asked if the same material could provide (temporary) homes for the dead. He was sure it could, and quickly developed prototypes for what would become the Loop Living Cocoon. Within a few months, he’d buried his first customer.
The eco-coffin is part of Hendrikx’s broader philosophy of sustainable design. “It’s really all about living things,” he said. “I imagine this world where every object I use is alive.” In Hendrikx’s ideal future, he wakes up in a living home, “where moss is coming out of the facades, where my t-shirt is [alive] like my skin.”
To make this a reality, he’s had to shift his own thinking: “I no longer look at materials, I look at organisms,” Hendrikx, who trained in architecture, said. Through design competitions, art installations, and sales, he’s hoping to change other people’s perspectives, too.
Hendrikx isn’t sure what 2021 will bring. But he has a lot of ideas from which to choose.
“I have a list,” he said. “It’s called ‘Big Dreams of Bob,’ and every week, I add new things to it.” He wants to buy up empty plots in cities around the world and turn them into forests. He’s considered fabricating giant beach balls—we’re talking 50 meters, or 164 feet, in diameter—and inflating them in urban centers, just to generate some confusion and excitement. Right now, he’s focused on the idea of “cuddly” biological concrete.
No matter what the future has in store, “I have to nurture my inner child,” Hendrikx said. “I always want to be that child.”