The Cork House designed by Matthew Barnett Howland + Dido Milne + Oliver Wilton is a groundbreaking architectural project in Eton, UK, reimagines construction by employing solid cork, offering a sensory-rich, sustainable built environment.
Under the meticulous collaboration of Matthew Barnett Howland, Dido Milne, and Oliver Wilton, the project manifests a paradigm shift in conventional construction methodologies. Its distinct structural form and sensory-rich environment are the upshot of an integrative life-cycle approach to architecture, a conceptual framework that threads the needle of environmental sustainability through every stage of a building's existence. Echoing simplicity, solidity, and sustainability, Cork House addresses the labyrinthine intricacies and conventionalities of modern house construction with commendable agility.
Taking a step away from the typical complexity of contemporary building envelopes, Cork House instead pioneers the art of radical simplification. Envisioned as a prefabricated kit-of-parts, the blocks of expanded cork are effortlessly assembled by hand, eschewing the use of mortar or glue in a manner reminiscent of a large-scale, organic Lego® system. This ingenious, plant-based construction method ultimately results in a building that is not merely carbon neutral, but carbon negative at completion, boasting an impressively low whole-life carbon of 619kgCO2e/m2.
The house represents an evolution of a construction system that has undergone rigorous research and testing. Laboratory tests, in-depth structural performance analysis, rain penetration, and fire assessments were conducted on two prototype structures, resulting in the pragmatic performance and resilience of the building. Integral to the project was a pioneering method of off-site prefabrication, involving the machining of blocks for the house using a large-scale 5-axis CNC milling machine.
In a bold statement of sustainable circularity, Cork House is entirely composed of expanded cork—a pure, plant-based material harvested from the bark of cork oak trees without causing harm to the tree or its surrounding ecosystem. The gentle cultivation process helps maintain the Mediterranean cork oak landscapes, contributing to the richness of biodiverse habitats. Echoing the ecological origins of expanded cork, the construction system allows for the reclamation of all 1,268 blocks of cork at the end of the building's life cycle, enabling reuse, recycling, or even reintroduction into the biosphere. Thus, the Cork House seamlessly weaves architectural innovation and ecological consciousness, ushering in a fresh architectural archetype imbued with a sense of the ancient. Its interiors, dictated by the rhythm of the pyramids, radiate an elemental warmth as copper pipes gleam in the shadows of the corbelled roof pyramids, the exposed cork delivering an environment that is as much a tactile delight as it is visually engaging.