News Home & Design Bright and Airy Cork House Is an Example of 'Beautiful Sustainability' This architect's home is great example of how cork can be incorporated to great effect. By Kimberley Mok Kimberley Mok Twitter Writer McGill University Cornell University Kimberley Mok is a former architect who has been covering architecture and the arts for Treehugger since 2007. Learn about our editorial process Published February 23, 2023 01:01PM EST Share Twitter Pinterest Email Lorenzo Zandri News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices News Archive In sustainability circles, cork is often thought of as the perfect material for building and insulating with, as it is natural, renewable, water- and fire-resistant, durable, and recyclable. Beyond using it for wine stoppers, we've also seen designers using it to make handbags and fitness accessories. But where cork really shines is when it's integrated into our homes, either as flooring, walls, or as an alternative to foam-based insulation options. Over in London, the Cork House by local architecture firm Polysmiths offers a great example of how cork can be incorporated to create a home that is simultaneously beautiful and sustainable. Created by architect and Polysmith's founder Charles Wu as a residence for himself and his partner, the home is built on a rectangular-shaped brownfield plot in the city's Forest Gate district, which Wu purchased in 2020. The initial plan was to build a three-bedroom home on the site, using more conventional materials like concrete block, timber framing, drywall, and plywood. Lorenzo Zandri However, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wu found that it became prohibitively expensive for some of these materials, thus motivating him to choose more affordable and sustainable alternatives. As Wu explains on Dezeen: "We decided to research and opt for materials that didn't have supply chain issues and could actually enhance the building's sustainability credentials." Lorenzo Zandri Cork—which is harvested from the thick, spongy bark of the cork oak tree—is now the main protagonist in the Cork House, as cork panels cover many of the walls both inside and out. The cork originates from the Portuguese company Amorim, which Wu was able to obtain via a Welsh supplier. Amorim, interestingly, has been in the cork business for quite a while, as Treehugger has detailed previously. Additionally, the cork paneling was treated further to make sure that it met fire regulations. As Wu recounts, he has some previous experience building with cork: "I had used cork previously as cavity insulation but I hadn't really used it as a wall finish before. It smells amazing—like slightly charred wood, and it has this rich colour and texture that comes alive when light hits the surface." Lorenzo Zandri Wu has managed to combine the natural texture of cork in a way that harmonizes well with the elegantly minimalist design—from the brick walls of the inner courtyard to other parts of the home. There is also extensive use of locally sourced timber and lime plaster, heightening that warm and earthy gamut of colors and materials. Lorenzo Zandri In addition to the judicious use of cork, the design scheme also implements a layout that maximizes natural ventilation and lighting. In particular, the home's main living area has a view into an inner courtyard, which can be opened up completely thanks to a set of large glass patio doors that can be folded out of the way, thus connecting the interior with the outside. Lorenzo Zandri Wu's idea for the inner courtyard was influenced by his childhood spent in Australia, where the warm weather allowed for design moves that strongly connect the indoors with nature. With the Cork House, the inner courtyards helps to better cross-ventilate the interior spaces, in addition to extra skylights, a central light well and high windows to making the entire home feel much bigger and brighter. Lorenzo Zandri Local regulations also dictated the maximum buildable height, so Wu decided to excavate part of the site to lower the floor level by half of a story, creating a split-level scheme. Lorenzo Zandri The lower level comprises a bedroom and a bathroom. The bathroom is connected to the main bedroom and is lit by a light well in the corner. Lorenzo Zandri The main bedroom seen here has a view into another interior courtyard, which functions as a light well. Lorenzo Zandri Characterizing the design as an instance of "beautiful sustainability," Wu says that less-than-ideal situations can actually be a blessing in disguise, and a call to experiment and think outside of the box: "I would encourage other architects to take on this kind of project if they have the opportunity. Alongside working for clients, architects should look to lead building projects and use them as prototypes for testing new materials and new ways of living." To see more, check out Polysmiths.