Cork: from the trees to you

Cork: from the trees to you

This year’s Wanted Design event in New York City was a networking of great designers and school graduates with outstanding work.  During our visit to Brooklyn’s Industrial City, the experience changed from floor exhibition to a one-on-one talk with designers at their very workshops. But that will be another post. I want to focus on growing design requiring sustainable material practices onto which the future will be mostly based.

Inside the Industrial City, a group of graduates from Pratt, exposed their final year projects with impressive crafting and ingenious results. Materials explorations ranged from wood, aluminum, expanded metals and sustainable explorations with cork which caught my eye immediately.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAANLAAAAJGFiNTMzMWNjLTA3MmQtNDI5OS04NWE5LTQxMzk1N2U4NzNlMgCarla Ramírez Sosa, is a Puerto Rican graduate from Industrial Design with a Minor in Sustainability. Her interests in creating furniture with a sustainable awareness are clearly accomplished on her project: Pressed Cork. At her webpage, an array of other designs are showcased providing an insight of her hunger for innovation through industrial design and basically answering the questions: What can we do with waste? How can we make it easier for the domestic crowd to understand the importance of caring about the environment?

cork1At Wanted Design she presented next to her classmates, a cleverly-designed set of stools completely fabricated from processed-pressed cork, clearly a sustainable form of furniture where waste from other cork products can be compressed and turned into a stool, extending the life of this by-product.

Further understanding her experience working with this kind of material, Ramírez expressed herself by explaining her various intents with cork and how she managed to understand its potential:

“Experimenting with cork through the compression molding technique was really fun. I felt like a baker preparing cake but using cork and wood glue instead of flour and milk. Before making the big cork pieces I made many small samples through which I learned technicalities like what was the cork and glue ratio I needed and how long the piece would take to dry after being released from the mold.”

Besides cork being the main material for the stools, a different color appears on the surface and mix of the product making part of the biodegradable component and a diversity maker adding a dynamic appearance. Ramirez adds an explanation to our curiosity:

“At first I mostly played with dyeing the cork with various colors and made different mixes with different color combinations. It was later on that I decided to use flowers in the mixes because I wanted to draw attention to the process of compression molding by adding other materials in the mix, aside from cork. It was very important for me to maintain the product biodegradable so I chose flowers because it added that extra material without changing the properties of the product. 

I would love to continue experimenting with cork using the compression molding technique. Even though my cork collection is a series of experiments, there is a lot of potential for growth and even further experimentation that will lead to polished products.”

Cork Dissection:


• Lightweight
• Impermeable to liquids and gases
• Elastic and compressible
• An excellent thermal and acoustic insulator
• Fire retardant when its cells as intact
• Highly abrasion resistant
• Resilient
• Its even Hypoallergenic!! Because cork does not absorb dust, its very easy to clean, its ideal for clean spaces where asthmatic humans might be inhabiting.

Cork Structure according to Chesterfield UK

Cork Structure according to Chesterfield UK

In addition, its is intriguing everything that can be obtained from the waste generated at the manufacturing cork plant. As described by the site: “How products are made”, cork also produces a by-product from its waste allowing manufacturers to produce other new products or even power up their own machines.

“Cork waste generated during the manufacturing process is ground and used to make agglomerated cork products. Cork powder that is generated by the grinding process is collected and burned to help fuel the factory. Chemical components removed from cork during its processing can be recovered as useful byproducts and include tannin (used for curing leather), hard wax (used in products like paraffin, paint, and soap), resinous gum (helps vanish adhere to copper and aluminum), and phonic acid (used to make plastics and musk-scented toiletries).”



Ecork Hotel in Evora, Portugal. Architect José Carlos Cruz. Image by Dezeen.

Now that we know the properties embedded in cork, how can we actually apply it in Architecture? Insulation is one of the main properties this material can provide to our buildings and here is an example provided by Dezeen of a Hotel cork-clad by Architect Jose Carlos Cruz. The Ecork Hotel is claimed to be the first building designed with cork as its main material because of its accessibility and insulation properties. In Portugal, cork is highly produced, making this a sustainable quality when designing sustainable buildings and this hotel is located where cork oak trees and olives surround it. An excellent response for applying materiality in this type  of context.

Read more about this bulding here:

Cork pavilion at Concreta 2013. Image source: INhabitat

Cork pavilion at Concreta 2013. Image source: INhabitat

In addition to insulation, cork is a great acoustical material due to its honeycomb structure and its tiny air sealed air pockets; its also a great material for many other applications such as: veneers, floors and carpets. Nonetheless, as Portugal is an abundant country with the Cork Oak tree as a native plant, a fully constructed cork pavilion was achieved in 2013 by Portuguese students from the Advanced Program in Digital Architecture (CEAAD), in accordance with AMORIM Isolamentos. A self sustained structure fully built from cork with an amazing parametric aesthetic found here.

Although this last exploration is under research and development, cork has been seen by the eyes of innovators as an interesting sustainable material option due to its natural properties after understanding its cellular structure, applied mostly as insulation and acoustical panels. It is possible that by understanding the process by which cork is obtained from the bark of trees and the process required to achieve the properties previously mentioned, the key to upgrading cork to better capacities might be unveiled. It isn’t the first time a specific material has surprised us with innovative evolvements, cork will probably do so too.

For more materials already registered, I recommend you to check out the over 80 or more types of products made out of cork included in the library of Material Connexion along with 7000 plus others.



Frearson, Amy. ‘Jose Carlos Cruz Completes “World’s First Cork-Clad Hotel”.’ Dezeen. Dezeen, 16 Dec. 2013. Web. 11 July 2015.
‘How Cork Is Made – Material, Making, History, Used, Processing, Components, Composition, Structure, Product.’ How products are made. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 July 2015.
Silva, S.P., M.A. Sabino, and E.M. Fernandes. ‘Cork: Properties, Capabilities and Applications.’ Web. 11 July 2015.
‘The Amazing Natural Properties of Cork – CorkLink – Cork Products Direct from Portugal.’ CorkLink – cork products direct from Portugal. CorkLink – cork products direct from Portugal, 15 Aug. 2011. Web. 11 July 2015.
Grozdanic, Lidija. ‘Portuguese Students Build Gorgeous Vaulted Pavilion Entirely From Cork.’ N.p., n.d. Web. 14 July 2015.
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Mabelle Plasencia

Founder and Editor at INmatteria©
• Architect | LEED AP BD+C, with an intense passion for materiality, innovation, technology and science. • Arquitecta | LEED AP BD+C apasionada por la materialidad, innovación, tecnología y ciencia.