Natural Cork - Cork and Other Applications

Nature without limits

Egyptians, Greeks and Romans of antiquity all chose cork for objects in their everyday lives. Today this natural raw material is applied in iconic works and in the most emblematic creations. In construction, heritage, decoration, fashion, plastic arts, leisure, aeronautics. With imagination, and the help of advances in R&D and Innovation, it has won over architects, engineers and designers from around the world. Earth-bound and in Space.

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"It's amazing how it works. It is open but somehow seems closed. It’s as if there were glass walls that are unseen but that protect us from the sounds of the street ... That's another of the qualities of cork: it absorbs sound. You can hardly hear the noise on the surface of the steel roof.” This description by the architect, Pierre de Meuron, of cork applied at the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2012 demonstrates how a 100% natural raw material can surprise even the most respected creators. This collaborative project in London between the Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, and the architects, Herzog & de Meuron, is surprising for its creativity. And the fact that they used a raw material "so interesting and mysterious that few people really know what it is," says Jacques Herzog.

"It is a natural material, with strong added value in terms of touch and smell, and great versatility, which allows it to be easily carved, cut, shaped and formed."

Herzog & de Meuron,
architects of the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion

Rediscovery and enthusiasts

All over the world, artists are discovering - or rediscovering - a raw material that we have been using in everyday objects, such as corks, for centuries. The interest is common to both veteran artists and new generations. Look at the success of the competition “The Future of Cork Applications", at the Vitra Design Museum and the Georges Pompidou Centre in 2012, to which more than 360 young artists contributed, revealing new insights into the use of cork.

Design has become increasingly important in the current challenge of bringing cork to the forefront of modern life. Names like Inga Sempé, Nendo, Fernando Brízio and Pedrita have set an example with the project MATERIA® - Cork by Amorim, a collection of objects that fit in a functional way into day-to-day environments. Other renowned interior and furniture designers have also contributed to the field to encourage the public to look at and feel cork more intensely. Jasper Morrison, Candice Olson, Eric Kuster, Daniel Michalik, among others, appear to be genuine enthusiasts of this raw material.

“For a material that has been used since antiquity, the Chameleon­like versatility of cork is astonishing (...) thanks to its capacity for renewal and for adapting to new technological demands.”

The Chemistry of Cork,
National Geographic

Cork is a differentiating product, associated with quality. It awakens sensations, appealing to creativity and comfort. When combined with other materials, it adds value and helps to reinforce the concept of originality, both from the designer’s and the user’s perspective. From decor to the most sophisticated fashion, cork has given rise to jewellery, clothing and footwear. Prestige brands such as Yves Saint Laurent, Prada, Stella McCartney, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana and Gucci are proud to integrate it into their collections.

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Naturally mind-blowing

Being 100% natural, cork has unique properties that no technology could emulate to this day: it is light to the point of floating, waterproof, insulating, flexible and compressible, resistant to abrasion, temperature and the ravishes of time, hypoallergenic and comfortable. As a result of a significant investment in R&D and Innovation, the reach of the potential of this raw material is as endless as the imagination. And technological advances allow its high technical performance to be enjoyed like never before.

In the field of new applications, cork has reached such a scope that it appears in almost every economic sector and in countries where a few years ago it was still an unknown product. In China, for example, the impact it caused amongst visitors to the Portuguese Pavilion at Shanghai Expo, all built in cork, was mind-blowing.

This raw material has been used for floor and wall coverings for a few years now. But its application in cutting-edge projects is a relatively new option in the sustainable construction market, in which it has clear advantages in terms of quality of buildings, the quality of indoor air, and thermal and acoustic comfort. Works such as the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the Leonardo da Vinci Museum in Milan, the Nezu Museum in Tokyo, Cape Town Stadium for the FIFA World Cup 2010 and the Serpentine mentioned above are examples of the use of cork as a highly sophisticated and technically advanced building material. They are proof of how this natural raw material combines so well and innovatively with other materials.

In large infrastructure construction, cork also plays an important role in building bridges and highways, in wind turbines, dams and airports.

Coupled with high technology, it increases product performance, comfort and prestige, for example in cars - inside the new Mercedes F700 prototype, cork as fine as leather was applied – for the interior components of buses, in high-speed trains and airplanes. In sport, its capabilities have been used in baseballs, surfboards and kayaks of the medalists at the Olympic Games.

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In the conquest of Space

Cork is a technologically relevant material for the 21st century, competing in areas traditionally dominated by metal and oil derivatives. In a society that increasingly values the more intelligent use of resources, cork is the most sustainable raw material because it not only ensures its own economy, but also contributes to the diversity of species and the retention of CO2. It is valuable, too, because it can be used as a substitute for artificial materials, animal products such as hides, and other natural products which, unlike the harvesting of cork, involve the felling of forests.

New and surprising uses arise every day from research: cork fabric, cork paper and cork wire are already a reality. Soon it will be used, in powder form, in cosmetics thanks to its hypoallergenic characteristics. It is being tested in bullet-proof equipment for its shock resistance ability. But there is still much to discover about the transformation of cork and its infinite possibilities.

It is not only on Earth that cork is seen as a material of the future. NASA and the ESA have also found a preferred partner in the bark of the cork oak, incorporating it into heat shields and plates lining their spacecraft. Due to the unique characteristics of cork composites and its excellent weight/technical performance ratio, cork insulation materials for heat shields have played an important role in the successful launch and operation of all spacecraft, whether manned or not. Here again, Amorim is an important technology partner, providing cork modules for the aerospace industry since 1980.

“Cork is a nature’s foam, a foam with a unique combination of properties.”

In NASA Technical Reports Server

Visit:  Serpentine Gallery PavilionMATERIA®Daniel Michalik   and  Domaine de Boisbuchet