Sustainable building: House made of cork offers an environmentally friendly alternative to wood

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With his new project for sustainable building, the “Cork House”, the architect Matthew Barnett Howland presents an environmentally friendly alternative to concrete, steel and wood. The biologically renewable material can be used in a variety of ways in complex modern housing. The architect received a nomination for the Stirling Prize for his prefabricated house made of cork.

Sustainable building: The prefabricated house was built entirely from natural materials

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The architect Matthew Barnett Holland, in close collaboration with his colleagues Dido Milne and Oliver Wilton, was inspired for his project by the stone structures of the Mayan temples in Guatemala. His prefabricated house consists of more than 1000 interlocking cork blocks. In contrast to the traditional construction method, where the connections between the bricks are closed with mortar, the cork blocks are connected to one another by an innovative click system. For the complicated roof, a light construction made of metal and wood was first prefabricated and then insulated with cork. Materials such as plaster, concrete or cement were not used at all.

Sustainable building: the advantages of cork

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Cork is a natural material that is extracted from the bark of the cork tree. A cork oak tree is peeled every 9 years. After the so-called cork harvest, the raw material is transported to factories, where it is further processed into cage blocks, parquet, insulating material or wine corks.

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The material offers many advantages: It weighs significantly less than concrete, metal and most types of wood and can be cut to size on site. The cork bark binds around three times more carbon than wood. Cork blocks can therefore significantly improve the building’s carbon footprint.

With the ulterior motive of sustainable construction, the cork house was planned in such a way that it can be quickly dismantled if necessary. The cork blocks can then be recycled and reused.

Sustainable building: The “cork house” inspires with an open living concept

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The cork house is a puristic masterpiece. Behind the simple facade hides an interior in a modern country house style. The rooms are small so that they can be ventilated, cooled and heated more quickly. Nevertheless, there is no lack of comfort in the cork house. A kitchenette with built-in appliances and a narrow kitchen island with dining area for four people offer the opportunity to end the evening while cooking with friends. The kitchen merges seamlessly into a living area, where a deep corner sofa promises the highest level of sitting and lying comfort. A small wall shelf made of oak provides space for books, home accessories and even a table lamp.

The color scheme is neutral. Neither the fabrics nor the materials are treated with lacquer or paint. The natural tint of wood, cork and wool make up the country house charm of the interior.

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Cork has excellent insulating properties and is classified as normal to flame retardant. That is why the cork walls offer the best conditions for energy-efficient heating. A wood-burning stove can easily heat the room even in the cold winter months.

Small, energy-efficient prefabricated houses made of cork: Is this the future of residential construction?

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When you look at the cork house, the question arises whether small, energy-efficient prefabricated houses made from reusable materials might be the future of housing. The space-saving house would be a good option both for families who want to build an inexpensive holiday home and for singles who want a city villa. It is also a practical alternative to multigenerational houses and can serve as a guest house in the country.

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A project by Matthew Barnett Howland