Portuguese brand Gencork has created an innovative method of turning cork into threads that can be used to produce furniture.
An offshoot of 50-year-old cork company Sofalca, the creative direction of Gencork is headed by architects and designers Brimet Silva and Ana Fonseca of Digitalab.
Together they have developed a method of turning cork from either the branches of a cork oak tree or recycled cork stoppers into a thin thread that can be used in the manufacturing of furniture, lighting, textiles and accessories.
Called CO-RK, the thread offers a sustainable, non-fibrous alternative to materials like plastic.
The thread is formed by injecting water vapour through cork pellets. This causes the pellets to expand, whilst the water bonds with the resin in the cork.
The mixture is then pressed and combined with a base layer of cotton fabric to produce a thin sheet that can be cut to a millimetre thick. The resulting threads are then washed to increase their flexibility and elasticity.
“It’s a robust and comfortable material, resistant to light traction and it’s also washable, keeping all the original physical properties of cork,” Silva told Dezeen.
“This super-material, cork, offers a huge range of advantages, because in addition to being an excellent thermal and acoustic insulator and as well as anti-vibration, it’s also a carbon dioxide sink, playing a key role in protecting the environment,” said the designers.
The robust fibres are then woven into “complex generative forms” or mesh-like structures using an algorithm developed by Gencork based on mathematical formulas.
“It is a high-tech and low-tech approach where craftsman practices are mixed in with technological processes,” said Silva.
“The aim was to develop and manipulate different mesh densities to apply to different scales and functions according to the product. For example, we are exploring higher densities that are strong enough to apply to seating solutions and space dividers, among other applications,” he explained.
Gencork products were shown at this year’s Stockholm Furniture Fair which took place between 5 and 9 February, where the brand was awarded the rising talent award by a jury chaired by Dezeen founder Marcus Fairs.
Pieces from the collection were displayed on a stand clad in the brand’s flexible cork wall-cladding in geometric and swirling patterns, an application made possible by applying algorithmic processes to the CO-RK thread. The wall-covering functions as a thermal and acoustic insulator while preventing sound or music-induced vibrations.
“The 100 per cent natural and sustainable expanded-cork agglomerate is transformed through generative design algorithms and advanced digital fabrication processes, expressing a new formal aesthetic,” said Silva.
“This creative and disruptive system not only optimises cork’s thermal and acoustic properties but also adds artistic value to traditional walls,” he continued.
Other winners of the judge’s awards at Stockholm Furniture Fair included the entire collection of furniture and fittings commissioned from various designers for the re-opening of Stockholm’s Nationalmuseum. The collection won best product, an unprecedented move and the first time an entire project has been selected.
The best stand award was given to acoustic products brand Baux for a cube clad inside and out with its latest biodegradable acoustic panels called Baux Acoustic Pulp.
A plethora of noise-cancelling products at the fair highlighted furniture brands’ response to consumer demand for quieter work spaces in open-plan offices, as well as a move towards “healthier” office furniture that works to counteract a sedentary office lifestyle.
Meanwhile, cork is increasingly being used as an architectural material. Dezeen recently highlighted seven projects that use the versatile material as cladding.
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