Collection
/ May
2021

The Burnt Cork collection in Noé’s words

When I moved to Portugal in summer 2017, I decided to drive from France alone. It was a 3 day drive during which I sensed a change in my life and the beginning of a new chapter. This road-trip was open to feeling, seeking and finding, eloquently narrated by landscape.  Upon entering the country, I was met by flames, burnt forests and charred black trees. It was a shock to drive into these hills ablaze, the inferno consuming the landscape and leaving behind a world of visible entropy. Hauntingly dark, each spike of burnt wood sticking from the ground where a tree used to be. The power of fire struck me, one of the five elements vital to existence on earth, a keystone to the development of culture. It is a transformer of environments: subtle when controlled and aggressive when wild.  Fire is somehow always beautiful.  Part of me didn’t want to think about this, but I took photos and this experience stayed with me. It made me question my interaction with nature as a designer and as a consumer. I felt it would resurface in the work I was to do here in Portugal.

"It was an opportunity to transform the remnants of the fires, creating our own material as a rebirth. "

I began to research the local Portuguese materials when Made in Situ was born. Cork was on the top of the list due to its inherent Portuguese presence historically and now.

 

In Algarve, we went to visit a local family producer of cork agglomerate blocks, traditionally used for construction. Nuno and Tânia who are husband and wife, had inherited the a family business, NF Cork and they were looking for new ways to use cork and sustain their process.

 

During the visit I noticed a discarded pile of burnt cork. This struck me as we toured the facility and learnt of the process of making the blocks with the different sizes of granules. I wanted to use the discarded material, use the entire material that would otherwise not have been unused.

 

It was an opportunity to transform the remnants of the fires, creating our own material as a rebirth. Working with these people to imagine relevant adaptations of realities.

 

The reality of fire, the reality of how to use cork blocks, the reality of manual manufacturing and technology. After all, fire causes transformation, so we are just continuing with that motion into the design and final pieces, with a maximum use of the material optimized for this specific project.

Following the prototyping of our first blocks, we were keen to find another partner to join us for the high technology needed to sculpt this material. This is done with an industrial company in the North – Granorte. Based in the heart of the cork industry it is also a family company, where we are working with talented team and a 7 axes CNC machine to create the organic forms.  There is a dichotomy between the family company that creates the blocks by hand and the industrial company that carves the organic forms. Both fully devoted to the project with us, pushing their comfort zones to be able to create these pieces.

“I wanted the user to have a direct connection with the cork as it is on the tree. And thus the gradient from rawness to refinement. Connecting directly with the history and process of the material itself.”

There was a tension to this collection from the beginning, from the dramatic landscape after the tumultuous fires, the rejected burnt resource of the bark that takes 9 years to grow before harvest, the family company struggling to survive in the face of big industry and monopolies and the tension of pushing boundaries for innovation while at the same time supporting tradition. The idea of the phoenix rising from the ashes has been the clearest way of envisioning these aspects of the design development and project for me. How through the creation of these pieces we have designed a new way of working with this material, new tools, put high technology with manual techniques and celebrated the remnants of the flames. The passion of all those involved to create a positive result from a difficult situation has been a thread throughout the entire process.

 

I wanted the user to have a direct connection with the cork as it is on the tree. And thus the gradient from rawness to refinement. Connecting directly with the history and process of the material itself.

 

Back to journal