Thursday, 24 May 2012

Uncorked Potential

Cork is an interesting material: reusable and fully biodegradable, water resistant, maleable, light and buoyant. It grows on cork oak trees, and those trees do not need to be cut down in order for cork to be harvested. Rather, cork can be extracted from the tree's bark without any harm done to the tree itself, and the bark regenerates itself completely, getting smoother each time. Apparently a cork tree can be harvested safely approximately 20 times in its lifecycle, making cork a highly eco-friendly material with little impact on the environment.

The cork oak tree is indigenous to the western Mediterranean, and more than 50% of the world's cork is produced here in Portugal. It's an industry under threat as more and more wine producers are switching to screw caps instead of corked bottles (I've yet to come across a screw cap on a bottle of Portuguese wine though - how's that for solidarity?!). Given its importance to the Portuguese economy, as well as its unique set of qualities, designers here are looking at new ways of employing cork. In 2011 ExperimentaDesign (Lisbon's design biennale, its next edition will be EXD '13, from September to November 2013) teamed up with Portuguese manufacturer Amorim to produce a range of new cork products entitled 'Materia', which were then showcased both at EXD '11 and at Salone del Mobile in Milan that same year. A number of local and international designers were invited to contribute to the collection, resulting in a range of fun/ctional objects using cork in clever ways.

Above are items from the collection by international designers. 'Bote', pictured second from the very top, by Swiss studio Big-Game utilises cork's buoyancy by creating a set of playful boats. Above, 'Pinha' by London-based Raw Edges is an adjustable lamp: pin the shade at the level you want for varying shapes and differences in the amount of light emitted.

'Senta' by Portuguese designer Fernando Brízio is pictured above. Possibly best known for his marker-stained dresses, Brízio makes use of the lightweight nature of cork by producing a portable stool. Below is another Portuguese design: 'Pino' by Lisbonite Daniel Caramelo. 'Pino' - again portable - is a voodoo-inspired pin board. Keep your notes close and your enemies closer...

Images by Luís Silva Campos