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Cork House: a sustainable and awarded project

Cork House is an innovative project that uses cork as its main building material. News

Awarded with RIBA's Stephen Lawrence 2019, the Cork House project paves the way towards a more sustainable architecture by reducing the number of different materials used in construction and enabling a more environmentally-friendly building system.

A house built almost entirely from cork, with low carbon emissions and whose components are recyclable at the end of its life cycle. This is the proposal from a group of British architects to promote ideas about the environmental impact of the construction industry.

Created by Matthew Barnett Howlandwith Dido Milne and Oliver Wilton, Cork House is set in a private garden in the town of Eton, England. From the walls to the roofs, it is built from expanded cork blocks combined with engineered timber resting on removable steel foundations. All the cork derives from waste from cork forestry and industry and has been supplied by Amorim Isolamentos in conjunction with the partner for the research phase, Amorim Cork Composites.

  • Without the use of additives or any chemicals

    The 1,268 solid blocks used in the house were obtained from heating and compressing cork granules, without the use of additives or any chemicals. These blocks were subsequently subjected to a 3D milling process, to fit together, eliminating the need to use glues or cement during construction. The fitting system and lightness of cork meant that most of the house could be assembled manually, without the need for machinery or skilled labour.

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Slowing down climate change

The choice of cork as the dominant raw material for this innovative project is based on the fact that it is a 100% natural, sustainable and recyclable source material. These characteristics meant that the house had a was carbon-negative carbon footprint at completion. In other words, it absorbed more carbon dioxide than that emitted during the construction process.

In addition, in a carbon comparison with generic reference projects compiled by Sturgis Carbon Profiling, the total carbon emissions of Cork House will be less than 15% of a new build house and less than half of that for a zero operational carbon building. This is a relevant contribution to reducing greenhouse gases, given that according to UN data, the construction industry is responsible for over 30% of global carbon emissions.

In addition to its ecological profile as a building material, cork has excellent insulating properties, and has also been used in this project for structure, as well as external and internal finishes. These are important features when designing living spaces and also motivated the architects.

“Imagine being inside a space protected by walls that are warm and gentle to the touch. Walls that are solid from inside to outside and even smell good. Walls built by you from a single natural material. A material that grows on trees and is harvested by hand. Harvested every nine years leaving the tree standing and the forest undisturbed. A forest that supports a wide range of plants and animals, including the endangered Iberian lynx. You are in the Cork House.”

Matthew Barnett Howland

  • Minimalist and functional interior

    Cork House consists of five intercommunicating blocks that end in pyramid shaped roofs with skylights for ventilation and interior daylighting. Measuring 44 m2, it has an open plan kitchen with a dining area, living room, bedroom, bathroom and terrace, which ensures the transition with the exterior.

     

    The interior is simple and minimalist. The furniture is also made from recycled materials. The indoor and outdoor walls have not been subjected to any type of coating or finishing, thereby highlighting cork’s natural look and sensory properties. This option, in addition to dispensing with the need to use glues or cement, facilitates the process of reusing or recycling the structure at the end of the building's life.

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  • Awarded with RIBA's Stephen Lawrence 2019

    Cork House's innovative character caught the eye of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), that awarded the project with the prize Stephen Lawrence 2019, an award for experimental architectural talent, celebrating projects with a construction budget of less than £1 million.

     

    Marco Goldschmied, the founder of the Stephen Lawrence Prize, said: "Cork House is a unique fusion of ancient construction methods and cutting-edge technical research to produce a highly innovative, low carbon solution with a wide variety of applications from mass housing to emergency shelters.”

     

    Cork House was also one of the six finalists of the RIBA Stirling Prize 2019, Britain's leading architecture award, and is also nominated for the RIBA President's Awards for Research 2019, that will be announced. 

     

    In the future, the design team intends to investigate the development of a building system that will enable Cork House to be marketed in kits that can be assembled by the end consumer to build their own home.

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“Expanded cork possesses a rare combination of properties in relation to the life-cycle of a building. It is a pure bio-renewable material that is a by-product of a biodiverse landscape; it can be used to fulfil all the roles of a building, from structure to breathable insulation, weathertighness, external surface and internal finish; and it creates a rich sensory environment with a unique range of qualities - gentle to the touch, soft acoustic, textured surface, and it even smells good.”

Matthew Barnett Howland

Matthew Barnett Howland

Matthew Barnett Howland is an award-winning British designer, teacher, and researcher. In recent years, he has dedicated himself to the study of cork as a building material, looking for an alternative to conventional building systems. In the development of the Cork House project as a whole, he worked in partnership with the architects Dido Milne and Oliver Wilton, The Bartlett School of Architecture UCL and several companies, including Amorim Cork Composites.

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