Home is where the cork is: UK designers present recyclable house

ETON, England (Reuters) - With an open plan kitchen, living room, bedroom, bathroom and snug sleeping space in the roof, this small house resembles any other regular abodes except for one key element - it is made almost entirely of cork.

Built by architects in the British town of Eton, Cork House, which sits in a private garden, was part-assembled by hand and can be recycled at the end of its life.

Cork is harvested from the bark of cork oak trees which grow around the Mediterranean. Using leftover material from a Portuguese manufacturer who harvests it from trees every nine years, the team built the house using blocks of prefabricated cork, engineered timber and steel foundations.

“It smells of the cork forest, it’s got a very distinct smell,” architect Dido Milne said during a tour.

“The walls are really warm to the touch and the acoustic is very soft, being pure plant-based material.”

Tiny cork houses have been built before. For this project, granules of cork were compressed and heated to create building blocks. These were cut using 3D milling so the blocks interlocked, removing the need for glue or cement.

Because of the material’s lightness, the cork walls and roof, made of several distinct corbelled pyramid-like shapes, were assembled by hand.

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“We used a corbelling system which allows for a simple assembly of one block on top of the other,” said Oliver Wilton, director of technology at the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London. “There’s no need for any support during construction.”

Cork’s thermal properties mean the house which measures 44 square meters (473 square feet) internally, remains warm.

The building can be easily disassembled and the 1,268 blocks recycled or composted, its makers say.

“It shows we can build genuinely sustainable architecture,” said architect Matthew Barnett Howland, adding there was “no definitive answer” to how long the building could last.

Foundations for the house, which has been shortlisted for British architecture award the 2019 RIBA Sterling Prize, were first laid in September 2016. It was completed in January.

Adding to its green credentials, the architects say the house’s “whole life carbon” is less than 15% of a standard British new-build house. Whole life carbon quantifies all carbon required to build, maintain and use a building.

Reporting by George Sargent; Editing by Ken Ferris