Cork House: Pioneering the Future / Cork Talk: Building (Blocks of) the Future

Synonymous with the sounds of celebration, the familiar cork pop now heralds the arrival of a low-carbon future. Naturally waterproof and breathable, cork’s qualities are now being recognized by architects. Innovators in sustainable design, our client has led the way in refashioning cork from a wine staple into a primary construction material. Cork is harvested every nine years from the bark of the cork oak tree found in Portugal, Spain, and France. This renewable material is low in embodied carbon, and a perfect candidate for building the next generation of homes.

This is exactly what our client did: as part of a collaborative project committed to the ‘building lifecycle,’ they worked on the development of an award-winning cork house nestled on an island in the Thames, using only recycled cork from industrial waste. Modelled on Eton College Chapel, the linear design utilises a prefabricated modular ‘kit of parts’ for simple assembly and removal, with no mortar needed.
Expanded cork blocks (1,268 of them) take the load-bearing weight of the structure which rises to a series of distinctive corbelled turrets. These are made through a process in which cork is granulated and cooked in autoclaves using over 90% energy from cork waste biomass. During cooking, the natural resin melts and then binds the granules of expanded cork together to create a pure plant-based product. With the integrity of expanded cork maintained during its life as a building material, it can be recycled back into the biosphere to biodegrade to generate new growth. This environmentally friendly method signifies how pioneers in the industry are taking practical action to meet climate and energy mandates.

The project was a global sensation – our client has been contacted by a variety of international organisations interested in the revolutionary cork technique. This has included an invitation to the prestigious Seoul Biennale, as well as a commission to design the world’s first cork light-industrial building in Germany.

At Hamilton Blake Consultants, we pride ourselves on enabling innovators to continue pushing the boundaries of possibility in an ever-changing world.

Jacob Kelman

Cork House

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