Cork in Architecture: A Sustainable Alternative to Wood

There is a growing move to use sustainable materials in building construction, with wood in particular seeing a dramatic surge in popularity. But cork is increasingly emerging as a durable, environmentally friendly option. We look at some of the projects to showcase cork in the built environment

Artist’s Studio

Lee Over Sands, UK

Architect: Lisa Shell

Located in a salt marsh on the east coast of England, this elevated cabin has been clad in cork to provide sustainable durability. “The coastal site is an extreme environment in which to build, but also one that is delicate and sensitive: these constraints demanded innovation and experimentation,” said Lisa Shell. “The changing climate – annual, seasonal, monthly and daily cycles, alongside long-term climate predictions – had a crucial influence on the design.”

Image courtesy of Lisa Shell

Cork House

Berkshire, UK

Architects: Matthew Barnett Howland, Dido Milne and Oliver Wilton

The winner of the RIBA Stephen Lawrence Prize 2019, Cork House is arguably the most architecturally acclaimed building using cork as the primary construction material. Featuring both walls and a roof made from solid cork, the building is carbon negative at completion and has very low whole-life carbon. It is also designed be very easy to assemble and disassemble, making it simple for the materials to be reused as required.

Image courtesy of Ricky Jones


Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Designers: Studio Studio Studio

A large site-specific pavilion, Gharfa is a wire mesh structure that is partially filled with cork, a choice that is both environmentally friendly and in reference to the local area. “The use of the cork expresses a contemporary interpretation of the local ruins,” said Studio Studio Studio. “The medium's scenic characteristic is not hidden, but proudly exhibited within a general theatrical approach.”

Image courtesy of Roberto Conte

Cork Screw House

Berlin, Germany

Architects: Rundzwei Architekten

This house in Berlin features a façade and roof clad in waste cork from the wine industry, which was initially chosen for its high acoustic performance. “However natural cork also has very high insulation values and is well suited to use as cladding,” said Rundzwei Architekten. “The choice of this material contributes significantly to the energy efficiency and sustainability of the building.”

Image courtesy of Gui Rebelo

Ecork Hotel

Alentejo, Portugal

Architect: José Carlos Cruz

Believed to be the world’s first hotel clad in cork, the Ecork Hotel's architects selected the material both for its insulating properties and the fact that is widely available in the region. “One of our intentions was to promote cork as a cladding material,” said project architect António Cruz. “It's a good thermal insulator and is also recyclable.”

Image courtesy of Fernando Guerra