Cork House Is Built Almost Entirely From Our Favorite Material

©. Ricky Jones via RIBA

It didn't win the Stirling Prize, but cleans up on all the sustainability awards.

I have called cork the perfect building material: completely natural, insulating, renewable, healthy, antibacterial, biophilic, durable and recyclable.

Cork House Exterior

© David Grandorge via RIBANow Matthew Barnett Howland with Dido Milne and Oliver Wilton have designed the ultimate cork house out of the stuff. It didn't get the Stirling Prize, but did deservedly win a pile of RIBA sustainability awards. From the brief:

Designed with immense attention to detail, Cork House is a structure of great ingenuity. Sited within the area of a Grade II Listed mill house dating back to the early nineteenth century, the Cork House beautifully reflects and respects the natural surroundings in form and construction. The ‘whole-life approach’ to sustainability truly sets this project apart. Designed, tested and developed in partnership with The Bartlett School of Architecture UCL, they have delivered a project that is the first of its kind.

Cork house interior

© Ricky Jones via RIBA

We have noted before how cork panels are made from the cork left after punching out wine bottle corks, then consolidated with steam in presses with just the natural Suberin resin holding it together, then cut into blocks with saws; see my tour of an Amorim cork factory in Portugal, the source company of the cork used here. The Cork House builds out of these blocks in an ingenious fashion:

Corkhouse roof and skylight

© Alex de Rijke via RIBA

The inventiveness lies within the structure’s ease of assembly. The whole house is ‘designed for disassembly’ and can be constructed by hand. An incredible feat by the architects to achieve such a delicately intriguing home that sits humbly amongst its surroundings, is sustainably sound and can be easily assembled. As the first of its type, it is truly exciting to think what this project could inspire within the architectural world. MPH Architects and the collaborative team, which includes not only The Bartlett School of Architecture UCL but also The University of Bath, Amorim UK, Ty-Mawr the BRE and consultants Arup and BRE, have really done something special with this project. The detailing is very clever, and the structure draws upon ancient inspiration, harking back to a time when humans and nature were more intertwined.

Cork house roof with wood for drainage

© Ricky Jones via RIBA

Cork shingles and siding are water resistant, but I love the way they have added the wood to the roof for extra protection. Everything about this is beautiful.

Cork house interior with wood stove

© Magnus Dennis via RIBA

The warmth of the interior is so seductive. No need to worry about that wood stove either, cork doesn't burn, it just chars a bit. If only cork wasn't so expensive, this would be such a fabulous place to live.

I was pretty sure that this project was going to win the Stirling Prize this year, and do believe that the jury made the right choice. One could even argue about whether this is truly sustainable, given the amount of cork it took to build it; it's not a model that could be replicated often without a massive increase in cork planting and a nine-year wait. But it is a thing of beauty and a great demonstration of the wonder of cork. Last words from the project brief:

Form, function and footprint are all equally considered and respected. This is a truly well thought through, carefully researched project that has created a home that inspires those that are lucky enough to visit. A noble, momentous model to aspire to.

UPDATE: A reader points to this great video about its construction.

Cork house kitchen

© Magnus Dennis via RIBA