Cork house floating on an island in the Thames

An innovative house made of cork has been nominated for a top architecture prize.

And the construction of the Cork House on an island in the Thames could lead to an interesting development in house building.

Cork has long been used as a stopper in champagne and other sparkling wines and as floats on fishing boats because it’s both light, elastic and waterproof.

Innovative material

Most of the world’s cork comes from Portugal, where it is developed from the bark of a specific type of oak tree. There designers and creators have been using the raw cork material to make a variety of innovative products, from umbrellas to shoes.

Now, for the first time in the UK, raw cork has been used as part of the construction material in a home.

The 44-square metre Cork House has been built on an island on the Thames near Eton and has now been shortlisted for the annual RIBA Stirling prize, which is awarded every year to the UK’s best new building.

Sustainable product

Cork’s qualities of being breathable but waterproof, offering insulation and fire-resistance and of being strong under pressure made it the perfect alternative to the usual brick-and-mortar wall filled with insulating material.

And thanks to cork’s sustainability, the house was carbon negative once completed. Its life span is expected to be 60 years.

The house was the brainchild of architect Matthew Barnett Howland who built and designed it with his partner Dido Milne and friend Oliver Wilton.

On RIBA’s website, the Cork House is described as “a structure of great ingenuity” and on that “beautifully reflects and respects the natural surroundings in form and construction”.