Getting hands-on in the cork oak Montado

We could talk all day about the incredible properties of cork as a flooring material (and we frequently do). But sometimes these things are best experienced in person.

That’s why we invited a select group of architects to join us on a trip to the Portuguese cork oak forests, or Montado, earlier this summer. These architects were from forward-thinking practices such as Perkins & Will, Minifie Architects, TP Bennett, Scott Whitby Studio and HLW that have shown a real interest in sustainable cork products.

The purpose of the trip wasn’t necessarily to convince these individuals of the benefits of cork. They’re all specifying cork in their projects already, so they understand the special properties of the material. But we hoped experiencing the Montado first-hand would give them additional knowledge and expertise to evangelise cork to colleagues or customers, and to encourage others to climb aboard the sustainable cork bandwagon.    

After a late afternoon flight to Lisbon, a delightful dinner at D’Bacalhau and a good night’s sleep at the hotel, we were ready to venture into the cork oak forest.

Harvesting cork in the Montado

Harvest in the Montado takes place between May and August, so a beautifully sunny Thursday at the start of July was the perfect time to visit.

Alex Scott Whitby and Audrey from Perkins & Wills admiring the cork bark

The architects had plenty of time to explore the forest and have any questions answered. They all enjoyed the unusual experience of witnessing raw material production, rather than just touring a factory floor to see the manufacturing process. Even though they had all used cork products before, most were surprised by the simplicity of the ancient harvesting process, and the lack of machinery involved.   

“The best bits were the cork forest and visiting the factory, the actual transformation of the bark into usable sheets of cork was incredible” Chiara Cozzolino from TP Bennett

After a demonstration of expert cork harvesting, the group had the chance to try cutting the bark for themselves with traditional axes. Don’t worry, their efforts won’t be forming part of our flooring products any time soon, but they do now have a much better understanding of the skill required to be one of the descortiçadores.   

Our Architects giving the harvesting a go!

With blue skies, fresh air and unique landscape of the Montado, all agreed the forest visit was the highlight of the trip.

Onward to the showroom and factory

After we finished our visit to the cork oak forest, we headed north to Porto where many of our cork flooring products are made.

For dinner we went to MUDA, which has a mouth-watering menu. But if we’re honest the real reason for choosing the restaurant was the striking cork décor. With cork used on both the walls and the ceiling of the restaurant, the architects could experience for themselves how the material absorbs food odours to maintain exceptional indoor air quality, while looking stunning at the same time. 

MUDA restaurant

Our first stop the next day was at a showroom where the group enjoyed a presentation on the unique sustainability of cork as a material. A huge variety of cork products was available for our architects to test out, including everything from cork shoes and bottle stoppers to accessories and rugs.

Having enjoyed the hands-on experience in the forest, the group was only too keen to interact with the various showroom exhibits, including one that enabled them to compare the acoustic properties of cork with other flooring products such as laminate. 

The lovely Chiara from TP Bennett testing the thermal properties of cork against Laminate

Next, it was on to the factory itself where the architects saw a number of the products that we talk about every day being manufactured. This included watching granulated cork being made into the simple planks that are used in Recork, as well as seeing production of the cork veneers and realistic digital prints that are used in multi-layer construction products such as the Climate+ collection. 

 

By this time our group was feeling like its cork expertise was complete, but there was still time for one more stop before we headed back to the airport.

Our final (and non-cork related) visit was to the Casa da Musica, an architectural gem designed by Rem Koolhaas to celebrate Porto’s designation as the European capital of culture in 2001.

It was a memorable trip all round, and hopefully one that will help us to spread the word about the remarkable sustainable cork flooring products now available. One member of the group summed up the trip as A huge thank you for inviting me I thought the trip was excellent and I have been evangelising about cork ever since. What a wonderful bunch of people to spend a few days with looking at something that is so good! Alex Scott Whitby from Scott Whitby Architects


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