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Biodegradable home built by hand with cork LEGOs, no glue

Using 1,268 cork blocks, Matthew Barnett Howland built a home almost entirely by hand that uses no glues or mortars and can be disassembled at the end of its life.

Designed by Barnett Howland, Dido Milne and Oliver Wilton (who appears in the film), Cork House can be assembled like a “giant, organic LEGO system” using blocks built from cork waste from the bottling industry. With numbered blocks and detailed plans, one person can lift the blocks and place them one on top of another. “From the slab up it’s simpler to assemble than some LEGO construction kits that my son was building when he was about 10”, explains Wilton.

The expanded cork blocks are structural- working in compression they take all the downward load-, but there is a bit of wood in the structure: wooden beams for lateral support on windy days and weatherboarding to protect the roof from rains.

Cork dates back thousands of years in construction- Romans used it for roof sheets-, but the technology for shaping the cork blocks for this kit house is very modern. Working with the robotics lab at The Bartlett School of Architecture UCL, the architects developed a robotic milling method for cutting highly specific shapes to deal with water and airtightness issues. The resulting blocks fit together with a snug “interference fit” of the tongue and groove.

The home is completely recyclable and thanks to the mortar-and-glue-free bonds, it can be disassembled quite easily and even composted (though the natural resin holding the blocks together makes this a long process). The team tested out the assembly and disassembly on a smaller structure: Cork Cabin.