Beautiful Destinations

The Cork House

Beautiful Destinations

The Cork House

Fully recyclable and environmentally friendly Cork House built by Matthew Barnett Howland with Dido Milne and Oliver Wilton in Eton, UK. Bare walls, wooden floorboards and doors, handmade furniture create a special atmosphere in the house and reflects the main objective of the architects - to build a carbon negative house.

Fully recyclable and environmentally friendly Cork House built by Matthew Barnett Howland with Dido Milne and Oliver Wilton in Eton, UK. Bare walls, wooden floorboards and doors, handmade furniture create a special atmosphere in the house and reflects the main objective of the architects - to build a carbon negative house.    
The Cork House is an innovative and thought-provoking response to pressing questions about the materials that we build with – what are the origins of these materials, how are they fixed together to create a building, and where do these materials go when buildings die?
With a focus on the primary issues of biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions, the key benefits of the building are:
• Solid walls and corbelled roofs are made with giant interlocking blocks of expanded cork, a pure plant-based material with no additional binders.
• Expanded cork has a unique and compelling ecological origin - cork oak landscapes are rich in biodiversity, harvesting of the bark does not fell any trees, and expanded cork is manufactured with waste product from the harvest.
• The prefabricated block system is designed for self-build assembly.
• The building is ‘designed for disassembly’, with no mortar or glue in the joints between blocks, so that all cork blocks can be reclaimed at the building’s end-of-life - even the steel screw foundations are removeable.
• The cork house is carbon-negative at completion i.e. it has absorbed more carbon dioxide than has been emitted during the entire construction process.
• The cork house has exceptionally low whole life carbon - in a carbon comparison with generic reference projects compiled by Sturgis Carbon Profiling, its whole life carbon is less than 15% of a new-build house, about one third of a timber frame Passivhaus with no renewables, and less than half of that for a zero operational carbon building.
 
With a focus on what is solid, simple and sustainable, the project is an inventive response to the complexities and conventions of modern house construction. Rather than the typical complex, layered building envelope incorporating an array of building materials, products and specialist sub-systems, the Cork House is an attempt to make solid walls and roof from a single bio-renewable material. Conceived as a kit-of-parts, blocks of expanded cork and engineered timber components are prefabricated off-site and assembled by hand on-site without mortar or glue - like a giant organic LEGO® system. 
The house uses an evolved version of a self-build construction system developed by MPH Architects, The Bartlett School of Architecture UCL, University of Bath, Amorim UK and Ty-Mawr, with subcontractors including Arup and BRE. The research was part-funded by Innovate UK and EPSRC under the 2015 Building Whole Life Performance funding competition. The R&D process included in-depth laboratory tests for structural performance, rain penetration and fire, with two prototype structures used to establish the real-life performance of the construction system.
The Cork House embodies a strong whole life approach to sustainability, from resource through to end-of-life. Expanded cork is a pure bio-material made with waste from cork forestry. The bark of the cork oak is harvested by hand every nine years without harming the tree or disturbing the forest. This gentle agro-industry sustains the Mediterranean cork oak landscapes, providing a rich biodiverse habitat that is widely recognised. 
This compelling ecological origin of expanded cork is mirrored at the opposite end of the building’s lifecycle. The construction system is dry-jointed and designed for disassembly, so that all 1,268 blocks of cork can be reclaimed at end-of-building-life for re-use, recycling, or returning to the biosphere. 
Alongside this simple and sustainable lifecycle narrative, the Cork House exhibits outstanding performance in relation to carbon emissions. A Whole Life Carbon Assessment by Sturgis Carbon Profiling showed that the Cork House is embodied carbon negative at completion and has the lowest whole life carbon of any building they have assessed. 

“If Cork House were a book, it would be a manifesto or polemical tract that aimed to radically reframe the processes of architecture and construction through the prism of whole life sustainability, from design to demolition.”

 

Catherine Slessor, The Observor

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