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Cork houses: A natural and contemporary façade finish

For thousands of years, cork has been used in a wide range of products and applications. The world’s largest producer of cork is Portugal, where the bark of the cork oak is harvested. The bark can be scraped off the trunk every nine years without causing any lasting damage to the tree. It then undergoes processing to transform it into the material we recognise as cork. During the manufacturing process, the resins present in the cork bark escape and fuse the tiny natural cork granulates together, creating a 100 percent natural building material without any chemical additives.

Cork: A sustainable source of design inspiration

Until now, cork has primarily been deployed as a sound insulator or to absorb vibrations. But more recently, planners and architects have also been using the material in façade insulation and as a design element in its own right – and while its outstanding environmental credentials are a factor in this shift, there’s much more to cork than meets the eye. Cork is a poor conductor of heat, so it works just as well as other common fibre insulation materials. It can be used in any climate and it’s air and water-resistant, as well as fully recyclable.

Corkscrew House in Berlin: A minimalist natural cork house

Berlin’s Corkscrew House was designed by Andreas Reeg and Marc Dufour from rundzwei architects in Berlin.

The project was supported by fellow architects Luca Di Carlo und Ana Domenti. The building is constructed on a tamped concrete base, and the façade and roof are clad in cork panels that serve to insulate the home while producing a unique visual effect. Cork is naturally resistant to weathering and mould, so the material requires no chemical treatment. The architects also refrained from using construction foam and adhesives. To continue the thread of this natural, health-conscious approach inside the home, the interior walls are clad with light wood and diffusible plaster fibre sheets.

The rundzwei architects design proves that sustainable materials are the perfect complement to contemporary design. With its generously proportioned windows, the cork house is a poster child for modern architecture. But the cork panels do much more than just elevate the building’s aesthetic: They also put in an exceptional insulating performance to keep heat in and sound out. Inside the cork house, even raindrops sound quieter. The solar modules on the cork roof provide energy to the detached home.

Cork house from outside.
View from inside the Cork house
Minimal Style in the cork house.
The material cork is outside from the cork house.

A tiny cork house – tucked away in a London backyard

Cork is also proving useful in new lifestyle concepts such as mobile tiny house living. All over the world, architects are developing concepts for off-grid tiny houses that boast an appealing design in combination with a minimal environmental footprint. London architecture firm Surman Weston has created a mini cork studio on an extremely tight site in London – in the backyard of a typical British terraced house.

The exterior of the tiny studio is clad in cork, which keeps the space warm and protects against bad weather, while also reducing the impact of noise on surrounding properties. Inside, the birch plywood panelling creates a light and airy space. Daylight floods in through the large skylight and a floor-to-ceiling sliding glass door. On sunny days, the door opens up the studio towards the main house for an open-plan feel; the central wooden decking seamlessly connects the studio to the main house.

A tour of the London cork house. Source: OnHome / YouTube

Bonjardim House: A cork house insulated against loud noise

In Porto, Portugal’s second largest city, planners at ATKA Arquitectos Portugal opted to partially clad the façade of a renovated residential property with cork panels. Their goal? To insulate the interior space against outside noise. The 85-year-old building – located on a narrow plot surrounded by terraced houses – is close to a school with a playground, which gets noisy during school breaktimes.

During the renovation, architects removed most of the dilapidated wooden framework and replaced it with a lightweight steel construction. The street-facing façade and the old side walls were retained. At 4.5 metres wide and 20 metres long, the new incarnation of the 233-square-metre property is the same size as the original building, offering living space across multiple levels. While the house still looks like a traditional terrace from the front, the garden side opens up over a series of cube-shaped units that seem to overlap across the floors.

The cube on the first floor, which has a large window and projects out over the building into the garden, has been clad with a distinctive cork layer. The architects opted for a cork finish in this area of the building as this is where the bedrooms are located – and where sound insulation and warmth are particularly important.

As a sustainable and recyclable product, cork is the perfect raw material for environmentally friendly construction projects anywhere in the world. Cork creates an attractive finish and requires absolutely no chemical treatment – so its prevalence in the architectural world can only grow in the future.

Can you imagine living in a cork house? Let us know in the comments!

Architecture Sustainability
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