From self-driving cars to hyperloops, our urban centers are evolving at a dizzying pace. Cities are expected to be quieter and greener, and ultimately, more livable. When it comes to silence and sustainability, cork is an old ally with endless applications.
According to the World Health Organization, noise pollution has created serious environmental issues in European cities. Over the last few decades, the construction industry has sought to combat noise, and cork offers a natural solution. Cork is a natural, renewable material that is periodically harvested from cork oaks without damage to the tree. It has a microscopic cellular structure that resembles a honeycomb and is filled with an air-like gas. Like a small set of cushioned pads, millions of cells create a compressible, elastic material that’s extraordinarily lightweight. These same characteristics make cork an exceptional sound absorber, as its pores and gaps cause sound energy to dissipate.
Cork may already be within the walls between your apartment and the next, under the floors of your office building, or on the ceiling of your favorite restaurant. As synthetic acoustic building materials fall out of favor due to their contributions to pollution and their release of volatile chemicals, cork is, quite literally, filling the gaps. Beyond acoustic uses, cork also provides excellent thermal insulation, fire resistance and weight reduction. It’s pleasant to the touch and aesthetically attractive. Cork combines performance with long term sustainability to achieve a higher quality of life in urban environments.
With so much promise for building applications, recent innovation has led to the combination of cork with different polymers to create lightweight building materials. These cork polymer applications are already being employed around the world. The Four Seasons Hotel in Bangkok uses a combination of cork and recycled rubber to meet rigorous acoustic requirements. New construction in the Lisbon Cruise Terminal used a material made from white concrete and cork granules to reduce overall weight, maintain strength, and improve energy efficiency. With a negative carbon footprint and so many positive attributes, cork is naturally poised for widespread use as we enter the next period in the evolution of the modern city.