- Clients:Matthew Barnett Howland, Dido Milne
- Fire Engineer:Arup
- Executive Architects:MPH Architects
- Block Fabrication:WUP Doodle
- Block Cad Modelling:RK CAD
- System Development:MPH Architects, Amorim UK, Ty-Mawr Lime
- Fabrication Research:B-made at The Bartlett UCL (Bartlett Manufacturing and Design Exchange)
- System Testing:BRE Group
- Country:United Kingdom
Text description provided by the architects. Cork House is the first of its kind, with monolithic walls and corbelled roof pyramids made almost entirely from solid load-bearing cork. Its distinctive structural form and rich sensory environments are the results of a whole life approach to architecture, in which environmental sustainability is embedded into every stage of a building’s lifecycle. 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 products and systems, Cork House is the result of an attempt to radically simplify the building envelope. Designed and built as a prefabricated kit-of-parts, blocks of expanded cork are easily assembled by hand without mortar or glue, like an oversized organic Lego® system. This highly innovative form of plant-based construction has resulted in a building that is carbon negative at completion with extremely low whole-life carbon of 619kgCO2e/m2 (as assessed by Sturgis Carbon Profiling to British Standard BS EN 15978).
The house uses an evolved version of a construction system researched, tested, and 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 research project also developed a method of off-site prefabrication, with blocks for the house machined on a large-scale 5-axis CNC milling machine. Cork House embodies a strong whole life approach to sustainability, from resource through to end-of-life. Expanded cork is a pure plant-based material made with a by-product of 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, 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. From this mix of architectural and ecological objectives, the resultant structural form is new and yet familiar - a progressive reimagining of the simple construction principles of ancient stone structures such as Celtic beehive houses. The sheltering interiors are organised according to the rhythm of the pyramids, with a weathered entrance bay at the end that also acts as a gateway between gardens and an antechamber to the house itself. The exposed solid cork creates an evocative sensory environment – walls are gentle to the touch and even smell good, the acoustic is soft and calm, and copper pipes gleam in the shadows of the corbelled roof pyramids.