Could Cork Be Nature’s Answer to Our Environmental and Construction Needs?
Cork has been sneaking its way into our buildings for many years now; due to its hard-wearing properties it can be found, for example, in the checkerboard flooring of the Library of Congress. Even NASA has been wise to cork's light weight and insulation capacity, using it as an insulator for their space shuttles.
Only recently have we seen a growing curiosity over cork as an external cladding material for buildings. Despite what many assume, cork is extremely waterproof (why else would we trust it as a stopper for our precious wine), resistant to abrasion, and acts as a fire retardant and an acoustic insulator. Its also has desirable aesthetic qualities, giving buildings mottled earthy tones and natural patterning.
Portugal is the largest producer of cork in the world; it is here where the material begins its life as the bark of cork oak trees in large agricultural forests called montados. The process by which the cork is handled couldn’t be much more sustainable: it is harvested by stripping the outer layer of skin off the tree with a small hatchet that then regrows in time for the next harvest. In the factory, the cork is shredded and compressed at high temperatures, causing it to expand and the sap to melt to form a glue that binds it all together. Once cooled, it can be cut to measure ready to be put up as cladding. None of the harvested bark goes to waste in the process apart from the dust produced along the way. And that’s it—no added ingredients![...]