Architecture and Design

Cork in the spotlight in modern life

When Jordi Bonet i Armengol first suggested that cork be used to cover the floor of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, ​​people said: "But cork is only good for sealing bottles!" As the coordinator of the continuation of Antoni Gaudí’s iconic work, this architect has long felt the comfort of cork in his studio and remained undeterred. In addition to cork’s thermal and acoustic properties - which are extremely important for the Sagrada Familia - and expectations in terms of durability and resilience, he added yet another argument: that it is a natural product, and therefore in perfect harmony with Gaudí's philosophy.

Mirroring the situation in the Sagrada Família, the myth that cork can "only be used for cork stoppers" has been contradicted by the excellent performance of Corticeira Amorim’s products in leading international architectural projects.

Recent outstanding projects include the Lisbon Cruise Terminal (Valmor Prize in 2017, nominated for the Mies van der Rohe Prize, in 2019), designed by the architect João Luís Carrilho da Graça, whose walls and façades are formed by an innovative cork-and-concrete composite, resulting in an incredibly beautiful structure that is also 40% lighter.

Other high-impact projects that have caught the media’s attention, include the Portuguese pavilions in Expo Hanover 2000, designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning architects, Souto Moura and Siza Vieira, and in Expo Shanghai 2010, designed by the architect, Carlos Couto, which won the Design Award from the Bureau International des Exhibitions.

In 2012, Herzog & de Meuron, also Pritzker Prize winners, in conjunction with the Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, chose cork for their project for the Serpentine Summer Pavilion, in London.

In all these cases, cork has fascinated visitors. For example, Jacques Herzog confided that it is an "interesting and mysterious raw material (...) with strong added value in terms of touch and smell".

The numerous architectural projects in which Corticeira Amorim's solutions have been used include some of the world’s most respected cultural spaces - such as the Nezu Museum, the Gotoh Museum, the Sanda Concert Hall and the Arie Korejiyo Hall, all in Japan; the Leonardo Da Vinci Museum, in Milan, the Lope de Vega Municipal Library, in Madrid and the Pedro Arrupe School, in Lisbon.

Riding the cusp between art and architecture, numerous projects around the world highlight the uniqueness and beauty of cork, while exploring its unique properties, such as durability, lightness, shock absorption and its thermal and acoustic insulation properties.

One example is the “One Two Three Swing” project, developed for London’s prestigious Tate Modern, where the design collective Superflex designed a colossal cork installation for the Turbine Hall, in the framework of the Hyundai Commission. Or the mega cork installation that occupied the main lobby of the Portuguese Pavilion, created for ArchiSummit 17, coordinated by the architect Manuel Aires Mateus. Or the annual summer architecture programme at the Centro Cultural de Belém, which creates ephemeral installations, designed by leading architects, in which cork has been used to create spaces that offer tremendous creativity and sensory and playful qualities, designed for the comfort and enjoyment of visitors.

Although cork is increasingly used for applications other than cork stoppers, its historical connection to wine is nonetheless undeniable. It should therefore come as no surprise that important wineries and cellars have chosen it as a solution for their insulation requirements, floor and wall coverings or aesthetic design. Examples in Portugal include the Quinta do Portal, designed by Siza Vieira, which won the Douro Architecture Award 2010/2011, LogoAdega, designed by PMC Arquitetos in the Alentejo region, Adega23, designed by the Rua design studio, in the district of Castelo Branco, and Taboadella, designed by the architect, Carlos Castanheira, in the heart of the Dão demarcated wine region.

Architecture and cork have natural affinities that date back to the birth of organic architecture. The leading figure in this field, Frank Lloyd Wright, used it in the late 1930s in his masterpiece, Fallingwater. The most famous US architect was an enthusiast of cork and chose it to cover the floors of several of the rooms in his best-known project. Cork not only made the rooms feel more welcoming, it also contributed to the feeling of harmony with nature. This was a key concern for the original construction built over a waterfall, in the middle of the Bear Run Nature Reserve (Pennsylvania). Fallingwater, one of the world’s most famous houses, is now a museum which has already received more than 4.5 million visitors since it opened to the public in 1964. In 2019, UNESCO made a new addition to the World Heritage List - the 20th Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. This collection is comprised by eight notable works, including Fallingwater.

At the heart of worldwide creativity

Cork adapts perfectly to current trends in architecture and design.

For the most brilliant creative minds in the fields of architecture, design and fine arts, cork’s physical properties, as well as its sensory qualities, pose a stimulating challenge, which opens up a virtually infinite range of applications.

Corticeira Amorim, in partnership with Experimentadesign, launched Metamorphosis, a unique research and development project, which invited ten world-famous international and Portuguese architects and designers (including four Pritzker Prize winners: Álvaro Siza, Eduardo Souto de Moura, Herzog & De Meuron and Alejandro Aravena). This led to the creation of 10 innovative projects which express the potential of cork - from construction solutions to items of furniture. Enjoying complete creative freedom and with technical support from Corticeira Amorim, the group designed cutting-edge proposals, many of which have already been applied in real world contexts, such as the cork-and-concrete composite used in the Lisbon Cruise Terminal, or Jasper Morrison’s cork tiles applied in Nova SBE’s Carcavelos Campus.

Cork’s incredible versatility is highlighted in the MATERIA - Cork by Amorim collection, launched by Corticeira Amorim and curated by ExperimentaDesign. This is a unique and differentiating collection that results from the creativity of renowned international and Portuguese designers - such as Miguel Vieira Baptista, Raw Edges, Pedrita, Nendo, Fernando Brízio, Inga Sempé, James Irvine, among others – combined with state-of-the-art production technologies. The result is a set of cork-based signature objects for everyday use, that are surprising and easy to integrate in contemporary environments.

The use of cork in indoor spaces is a worldwide trend, already embraced by the creativity of some of the world’s most respected artists. Jasper Morrison, Lars Beller and Daniel Michalik are just some of the international designers who have chosen cork as one of their preferred solutions for their furniture creations and floor and wall coverings. Tom Dixon masterfully used cork to materialise his vision of the future: “Gardening will save the world”, a model that brings nature into cities and promotes the circular economy, a concept and practice of Corticeira Amorim since 1963.

Highly regarded organisations that focus on modern and differentiating materials are looking for cork-based solutions for the most innovative design projects. One example is the London company, Established & Sons, which, in conjunction with Corticeira Amorim, frequently tests the use of cork in its creations. Another leading example is Vitra, which has used cork in its collections for many years, and recently chose it as the foundation for one of the Vitra Design Museum’s most relevant itinerant exhibition programmes - Home Stories: 100 Years, 20 Visionary Interiors.

Corticeira Amorim has worked with the world’s design and architectural institutions. In addition to Vitra, other examples include the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Domaine de Boisbuchet, the Royal College of Art, Middlesex University, Karslruhe Instute, the NABA - Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti, the Rhode Island School of Design and the Pratt Institute.

"Cork is very light and that was the main attraction for me in this case. But as soon as we developed the solution, which at the same time has a tremendous insulating and structural resistance capacity, it became possible to apply this material in countless situations."
"I think cork is extraordinary!"

João Luís Carrilho da Graça

“One day, I still hope to be able to make a house completely out of cork. It will generate a fusion of new material, space, function and experience. Cork is above all a timeless material that links the past, present and future thanks to its sustainability. It is what connects nature, architecture and people. What links the past, present and future. Cork offers me this extremely fertile possibility."

Sou Fujimoto

“We are at a turning point in the world of design and the creative world, since it has become increasingly difficult to do something that is not sustainable. And here, we have a 100% sustainable product. This endows cork with an impressive advantage.”

Ben Evans
Director of the London Design Festival

Highlighted Projects

Other Cork Applications

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