One of the installations at the V&A for the London Design Festival was a cork floor. It was installed on a bridge over the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries and designed by FAT Architecture in collaboration with cork producer Amorim. The geometric pattern was inspired by the molecular structure of cork itself and designed to look three dimensional from the right angle – the intention being to create an immersive experience.
I listened to the designers talk about the similarity between their design and the architectural characteristics of the Douro region of Portugal; I listened to them explain that cork is the ultimate 21st Century material because of its sustainability and versatility; and I listened to Ben Evans, director of the London Design Festival, predict a cork revival.
But all I really wanted to do was take my shoes off and walk slowly across the installation barefoot. I wanted to feel the different textures of the different tiles under my toes. I wanted to feel the bounce and give of the cork underfoot. I wanted to touch it. And I think it’s this tactile nature of cork that explains its popularity.
Cork is incredibly sustainable. Cork forms part of the bark of the Cork Oak and can be harvested from the tree every nine years allowing the tree to recover between harvests. No trees have to be chopped down, making it similar to hazel coppicing.
And it’s incredibly flexible. Its elasticity, combined with its near impermeability, make it suitable for bottle stoppers, especially for wine, and in fact this is where 60% of cork ends up. It’s naturally fire resistant and a thermal and acoustic insulator, making it a great choice for floor and wall coverings. Its low density makes it suitable for everything from pin boards to fishing floats. It can also be mixed with concrete to create a more lightweight and insulating construction material.
But crucially, it’s tactile. Its textured surface just makes you want to touch it. It looks good and it feels good. In an era when we’re looking for honesty in materials – things that feel good as well as look good – designers are adopting it in their droves, as was in evidence right across the London Design Festival, not just on that bridge.
Around half of the world’s cork comes from Portugal, so it was no surprise to see cork products on the Portuguese stand in the International Pavilion at 100% Design. Craft Design Construction (previously known as Colour Design Concept) was showing birdhouses, bowls and lighting all made from cork. Neighbouring Picchio, another Portuguese brand, showed a table completely constructed from cork apart from its feet and glass top.
Kristine Bjaadal combined wood, leather and white porcelain with cork to create the beautifully understated Siska collection on show at 100% Norway. The simplicity and honesty of the materials were the epitome of Scandinavian style.
And Note Design Studio’s Boet stool for Mitlab at designjunction was inspired by a “bird’s home among the trees” (Boet is Swedish for nest). The metal legs represent the strong tree, while the cork represents the soft, warm, inviting nest.
I think that says it all. Cork is soft, warm and inviting. It’s also tactile, sustainable and flexible. It might be a ‘hot trend’ right now, but I suspect cork is here to stay.
Further reading for the especially geeky:
- feature :: concrete; the quintessential hard stuff
- feature :: life through the lens of a lomo
- feature :: hand lettering
- feature :: the history of typewriters
This article first appeared in a slightly differently format on the D&AD website.