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Cork | Naturally a construction material

Cork is a natural, very Portuguese product with unique technical characteristics, the interest in which has increased a great deal in recent years, allowing a huge evolution and integration in various sectors of our economy:

In the food sector, in wine for example, in the fashion sector with representation in footwear and accessories or clothing, in the design sector, in small or large objects of our daily life, in the furniture sector, in interior or exterior solutions and in the construction sector, where for many years it has positioned itself with extraordinary results, both as a protagonist in coverings, and in 2nd plan roles where its characteristics become leading actors for efficiency, durability and sustainability.

Let's now understand what this material is and what an important role it can play in our homes.

Cork in architecture

First of all, cork is a Portuguese material par excellency. Known as the Cork Capital, Coruche is the area of the country with the largest area of cork oak forest. So named because the Cork Oak is the tree that gives us cork. Ribatejo and Alentejo are the areas where we can most frequently find this type of cork oak forest. Cork is very important for the economy of these Regions. In Coruche there is an Annual Cork Fair, the FICOR, usually in the last weekend of May. In Coruche the Cork Oak and Cork Observatory is born.

Cork comes from the bark of this tree, which regenerates every 9 years. It is a material which in its essence is 100% natural, which brings unique ecological and sustainability advantages because its transformation process is very reduced.

Since aesthetics is always a matter for discussion because what is beautiful to some may not be so beautiful to others, cork as a natural material assumes an extraordinary concordance equivalent to wood or stone.

Its integration into construction was not immediate because it was feared that this material did not offer the necessary resistance for the sector, but over the years this material has gained an unparalleled presence in construction and has evolved greatly.

In the beginning it was only used in buildings and secondary, hidden spaces, because as a natural material cork reacts to external factors and evolves with time. It was common for it to be applied in a brighter tone and with the passing of the years it began to take on a dry tone.

For this reason we have observed a timid entry of cork in the sector.

We first saw cork lining sound studios, as it is a material with almost zero vibration, which makes it an extraordinary acoustic insulator that was much appreciated by sound professionals as its presence was not felt.

A little later it began to be used for flooring and covering stairwells in the 1950s, perhaps the first and timid experience of cork combining its acoustic characteristics, as the stairwell is a chimney of sound in any building, with the aesthetic characteristics that gave a warmer visual temperature to this space that was generally cold. It had a third characteristic, that of protecting the walls, as cork coexisted well with the small touches made by shopping bags or suitcases on the walls along the stairs.

The result in the mid 1950s: more insulation, improved aesthetics, better visual temperature and less maintenance. Unconsciously, cork was launched as a differentiating material.

I remember with nostalgia the building where my grandparents lived on Alameda D. Afonso Henriques in which the stairwell was lined with cork, very common at this time of construction.

In a second phase it was realised that cork, in addition to having good acoustic characteristics, also had characteristics of thermal insulation because of its extraordinary thermal inertia. The agglomerate of cork as we know it today began to appear and it started to be used as a common isolation, in the interior of the boxes of air of the walls and it passed later also for the exterior in a system of capoto or ETICS and later in an assumed form as a covering also, accumulating functions.

Gradually it was realised that if the thickness of cork was increased it would also take on mechanical characteristics that would withstand the efforts of compression which would give it the ability in some cases to be self-supporting or even structural, thus initiating the use of cork agglomerate blocks.

To these three characteristics which are already very rare to find in a single material, acoustic, thermal and mechanical resistance, we can add flexibility, as cork, up to certain thicknesses, can be curved without breaking, making it very easy to use as a covering for curved surfaces or even to eliminate certain thermal bridges generated by the difficulty of the material adapting to the base where it is being applied.

Cork is a material that is easy to cut and can be applied in various thicknesses and dimensions. It can be applied by roll in insulation situations where the intention is to cancel thermal or acoustic bridges, under flooring for example, or it can be applied in polygons as a covering or as the basis for other coverings that use cork to gain other application arguments.

The thin thicknesses that we can achieve with cork without losing insulation, acoustic or thermal characteristics are impressive and are a very important argument in the rehabilitation of buildings as we can immediately correct or improve them without having to change the thickness of the supports.

From a mechanical point of view, it is assumed to be a material with a good elastic reaction which allows it to "work" with the other materials, a technical term which describes that cork accompanies the dilatations or retractions of the other materials, and it is therefore easy to apply it to any base or under any covering without losing its visual effect or characteristics.

Its elegance is noted and is consensual whether in simpler uses or in more noble spaces no one is indifferent to a wall of Agglomerated Black Cork or a wall covered with panels of well-finished cork.

The multiplicity of functions has been much appreciated by Portuguese and foreign architects and has gained some prominence in the national and international luxury markets, not because of the price, because even in this factor it is possible to find natural, which brings unique ecological and sustainability advantages because its transformation process is very reduced.

It is a charming material, visually pleasing, multidisciplinary, multifunctional, ecological, sustainable, with a cost that can be easily adapted to everybody and that is Portuguese.

Cork as we know it today is like the ugly duckling of construction that has become a beautiful swan. The evolution was exponential and it is a unique material.


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