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

Built almost entirely of cork, the house is part-assembled by hand and can be recycled at the end of its life

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The house, which measures 44 square metres internally, remains warm because of cork's thermal properties. The building can be easily disassembled, and the 1,268 blocks recycled or composted.

BT_20190726_CORK2606X4_3845492.jpg
The house, which measures 44 square metres internally, remains warm because of cork's thermal properties. The building can be easily disassembled, and the 1,268 blocks recycled or composted.

BT_20190726_CORK2606X4_3845492.jpg
The roof is made of several distinct corbelled pyramid-like shapes that are assembled by hand. The cork house's "whole life carbon" is less than 15 per cent of a standard British new-build house.

Eton, England

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.

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"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.

"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 means that the house, which measures 44 square metres internally, remains warm. The building can be easily disassembled, and the 1,268 blocks recycled or composted, its makers said.

"It shows we can build genuinely sustainable architecture," said architect Matthew Barnett Howland, adding that 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 said that the house's "whole life carbon" is less than 15 per cent of a standard British new-build house. Whole life carbon quantifies all carbon required to build, maintain and use a building. REUTERS