Quercus suber L.: cork you say?

By Cindy Couture

Cindy Couture visited Portugal as part of a special architecture + design journalists tour created by Esther Shipman of Culture Viewfinder and sponsored by Tourism Portugal

Line of cork furniture named Sobreiro of the Campana brothers. Source: Armorim

Visiting Portugal last autumn, FORMES magazine had the chance to visit the headquarters of Amorim, a multinational cork processing company founded in 1870. This hundred-year-old company, which is famous in several markets, with the big names in design and architecture to demonstrate all the characteristics of this raw material. A brief overview of the properties of cork and its possible applications.

An Ecological Material

This substance, commonly known as cork, is actually the bark of the cork oak, Quercus suber L. The cork is made from 100% natural plant tissue and is composed mainly of suberin and lignin. It is necessary to wait twenty-five years before being able to make a first harvest. After that, it will be possible to harvest every nine years. To harvest, the bark is removed from the tree, so that no trees are cut during this process. The tree regenerates simply and continues to grow. The extraction, always carried out between May and August, is carried out when the tree is in a more active phase of its growth. Among all types of trees, it seems that cork is the only one whose bark is self-regulating.

The first idea that obviously comes to mind when we talk about cork is the wine bottle stopper. However, it is necessary to wait for the third harvest (forty-three years) even before being able to create corks with the quality required to do it. The first two extractions, virgin cork and secondary cork, will be able to create insulating materials, floor coverings and various products in the field of construction, fashion, design and products for the aerospace industry.

At Amorim, we get cork from hundreds of landowners, whether in Portugal or in other countries such as Spain, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and France. Agreements between the company and the landowners enable it to harvest on time and provide additional income for these owners. It is only recently that Amorim has announced the acquisition of its first cork forest estate.

Portuguese designer Filipe Alarcão offers an ice bucket made of agglomerated cork.

Inspiring Features ...

Cork has many interesting features. The story reveals various projects where it has inspired great architects and designers. Indeed, Amorim has created significant collaborations to demonstrate the unique properties of this material. Whether through the participation in the construction of various emblematic buildings or the development of a range of objects and accessories called MATERIA, the creative possibilities of cork have been highlighted many times.

Of Great Lightness

Since more than 50% of its volume is air, cork is a very light material. This is what gave the architect João Luís Carrilho da Graça the idea of combining cork with concrete in order to reduce the weight of the structure of the new Lisbon cruise terminal, built in 2018. Portuguese architect has mixed with natural white concrete a natural cork granulate, to create a facade 40% lighter than with traditional concrete.

The architect João Luís Carrilho da Graça combines cork with concrete to reduce the weight of the structure of the new Lisbon cruise terminal. Source: Armorim

In addition to being beautiful, the cork / concrete mix adds a subtle texture to the surface, which is accentuated under the glare of the sun. The result combines the thermal insulation of cork with the durability of concrete, in addition to meeting the requirements of the maximum loads related to the existing foundations of the place.

With a weight of 0.16 grams per cubic centimeter, cork is a material that floats without any problem. Inspired by this feature, Atelier Big-Game proposed the Bote for the MATERIA collection. Composed of a cork shell and a plastic accessory (a sail, a row of engine chimneys or a cabin), Bote is the ideal toy for an imaginative navigation to entertain children during the daily bath.