The Cork House, designed by Matthew Barnett Howland with Dido Milne and Oliver Wilton, was recently shortlisted for the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Stirling Prize 2019. The house, as the name suggests, is made of cork and promises a low, whole life carbon performance – the unique methodology and design has already won the RIBA National Award 2019, RIBA South Sustainability Award 2019, RIBA South Award 2019, and is also longlisted for the RIBA House of the Year 2019. Rooted in innovation and creativity, the Cork House sets itself apart with its radical use of biophilic materials, astutely linking ambition with green design. It also addresses the global climate crisis with its gentle carbon footprint and a functional layout, rightfully deserving the RIBA Stirling Prize nomination.
Sitting within a Grade II listed 19th century mill house, the Cork House in Eton (a town in Berkshire, Britain) blends respectfully with its surroundings, expressing an innovative form and a sleek design. This ingenious structure employs a self-build construction system, designed and tested in partnership with The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL (University College, London), the University of Bath, Amorim UK and Ty-Mawr, including ARUP and BRE.
Designed and constructed almost completely using load-bearing cork (solid structural cork walls and cork corbelled roof), it minimally uses some timber, glass windows and steel structural beams. A completely plant-based material (sustainably harvested from the bark of the cork oak tree), cork has fire retardant and hydrophobic properties, apart from being an entirely natural and biodegradable material.
The structure is made much like a kit-of-parts with expanded cork blocks and engineered timber components. These components are prefabricated off-site and assembled by hand on-site, sans mortar or glue. Due to the biogenetic nature of construction, the project boasts of negative carbon emission at completion and is an astute example of how buildings can be created with extraordinarily low whole-life carbon. Parts of this green Lego-like house can be assembled and disassembled by hand, and they can be reused or recycled, while the cork blocks are made from by-products and waste from the cork stopper and cork forestry industries making it a truly recyclable building.
Nestled among greens, the five silver-grey pyramid shaped light wells, atop tan coloured walls, lend a simple aesthetic and exudes a linear regularity in the fabric of the town, which lies in the proximity of the Eton College. This biophilic process of design that focuses on increasing occupant connectivity to the natural environment, uses elements, namely exposed cork and oak flooring, illustrating its intent of practicing sustainable building construction. It is designed with an open plan kitchen and dining area, leading into a living area and further into a bedroom. The warm walls emit a faint smell of cork oak and provide warmth in winters, while the skylights bring a subtle lightness to the spaces.
The house is ‘designed for disassembly’ and exhibits the structure’s individuality, brilliance and ease of hands-on construction. Created with organic materials, this simple design provokes a future of experimentation in biophilic architecture. Harking an intense need to intertwine nature, design and human occupancy, the Cork House displays a practical endeavour in integrating innovation in design and sustainable building practices.
Name of the project: Cork House
Location: Eton, Britain
Area: 44 sqm
Architect: Matthew Barnett Howland with Dido Milne and Oliver Wilton
Client: Matthew Barnett Howland and Dido Milne
Contractor: Matthew Barnett Howland (assisted by M&P London Contractors Ltd)
Executive architects: MPH Architects
Self-build construction system developed by: MPH Architects, The Bartlett School of Architecture UCL, University of Bath, Amorim UK and Ty-Mawr, with subcontractors including Arup and BRE.
Whole life carbon assessment: Sturgis Carbon Profiling LLP