Cork, a Protagonist in Design

Experimentation and green innovation in design has a new protagonist: cork, a 100% natural material that covers the stems and roots of the cork oak, a wooden plant that grows only in the western Mediterranean.

“Cork is a material which is certainly worthy of attention in design. Its appeal lies in the combination of its old-world appeal and new-world technical capabilities.”
Jasper Morrison

Cork represents one of the most amazing combinations of properties to be found in a natural raw material, so perfect that no industrial or technological processes have yet been able to replicate.

Because of its honeycomb-like structure, over 50% of its volume is air, which makes it very light – it weighs just 0.16 grams per cubic centimetre. And since its density is one-fourth that of water, it floats.

Bote, toy boats (for adults) by Big Game for Materia

It is very elastic, compressible and resilient, and its natural texture combines softness and flexibility to the touch with a naturally uneven surface.

Cork absorbs neither dust nor moisture – the resistance to moisture enables it to age without deteriorating – and it resists both rot and insects. Furthermore, it is also a natural fire retardant.

The large amount of dead-air space makes cork an excellent thermal, acoustic and vibration insulator. Highly resistant to wear, it is used for polishing diamonds.

 

“Cork is a natural material, with wonderful haptic and olfactory qualities with the versatility to be easily carved, cut, shaped and formed.”
Herzog & de Meuron

What more? Cork is 100% biodegradable, recyclable and renewable, extraordinarily sustainable in environmental, economic and social terms.

Unlike all other wood products, the cork oak tree is not cut down because the bark is harvested by peeling it off without damaging the trunk. The cork oak is the only tree whose bark easily grows back, and can be harvested again in about nine years. Over the course of its lifetime, which on average lasts 200 years, it may be stripped around 17 times. This is why cork is one of the most sustainable materials available.

Production of agglomerated cork involves adding glue to cork granules made from cork waste generated from the manufacturing process, making agglomerated cork a sort of pre-consumer recycled material.

Even if it is a common material in the craft traditions of the Mediterranean area and has been used for thousands of years, up to now cork’s potential and possible applications have not been fully exploited.
Thanks to many design competitions raising interest on this topic, a lot of designers are now exploring different possibilities for making use of this old/new material.

Our picks:

 

Bouchon stool by Orlandini & Radice for Domitalia

Cork&Craft series by Antoine Phelouzat for Gallery Bensimon

Blackcork chair by Toni Grilo

Aro trays by Miguel Vieira Baptista for Materia

Corkigami by Carlos Ortega Design

Lagarta by Ana Mestre for Corque Design

Cork Shell Chair by Paul Julius Martus

Toronto adjustable stool for kids by In-tenta & Daniela Seminara for Made design

Vinco by Toni Grilo for Corque Design

Cover Collection by Daphna Laurens

Corks by Jasper Morrison for Moooi

Pipo stool by Dam

Degree table by Patrick Norguet for Kristalia

Plug cork and glass table by Tomas Kral for PCM