At SUSDESIGN Design Studio, Working with CORQUE

General / People / Places / Products / May 19, 2022

SUSDESIGN Design Studio & Consultancy was founded by Ana Mestre in 2005, and focuses on sustainability-related activities: Sustainable interior and product design, research, education, and consultancy. SUSDESIGN maintains the rights to the CORQUE brand – a brand dedicated to the design and commercialization of differentiated cork furniture and home accessories. Both Mestre and Rasim Savaskan are product designers. Mestre holds a PhD in design innovation, while Savaskan holds a master’s degree in Strategic Product Design – both from Delft University of Technology, and both centered around sustainability. But their passion for sustainability goes further back than academic degrees: They’ve been interested in ecology since childhood.

With a quiet nod to Marcel Proust’s cork-lined bedroom and studio, A+A recently interviewed Mestre via email:

So why cork?

Cork is a natural material with exceptional properties. It is a good thermal insulator and a shock (and sound) absorber, is non-toxic, and recyclable. While cork is often taken as a single material, its processing techniques bring about a diverse range of materials with varying qualities, and is quite versatile to work with.

Most cork materials are based on the waste-streams of the cork stoppers industry, and therefore maintain an industrial symbiosis with said industry. Virgin cork, on the other hand, is extracted periodically from cork trees without harming the organism.

Additionally, the responsible commercialization of cork materials supports a particular socio-economic context (extraction of cork requires careful manual labor so as to not harm the tree, and cork forests are mostly located in the poorer southern regions of Portugal), while also creating financial incentives to maintain and protect one of Europe’s largest (and most important) forest ecosystems.

Finally, cork has a very particular and characteristic tactile and aesthetic appeal which we explore in our CORQUE furniture collection.

Is it a material that’s threatened with a limited supply?

The supply of cork is fundamentally tied to the cork stoppers industry – meaning that sufficient time has to pass between each harvest (around 9 to 10 years) for the bark to gain sufficient thickness to manufacture the stoppers. In light of the cork oak being a long-lived, slow-growing tree, this results in a soft cap on the production capacity of cork.

That being said, it is a sustainable material, and increasing awareness and demand for cork products is driving incentives to recycle the material. However, the Mediterranean region has a very particular climate and is relatively close to the tropical belt – the whole ecosystem throughout the region is threatened by climate change and its consequences.

 Other materials in your palette?

We are always experimenting with new materials. Cork, of course, is fundamental to us; however, we also utilize materials derived from forest waste, biopolymers such as latex and starch-based bioplastics, upcycled wood, bamboo, and lately, mycelium. More recently, we designed and developed product design pieces integrating several of these materials, as in the case of the FOREST CHAIR presented this week at ICFF – Wanted Design Manhattan.

Your design intent?

We intend to increase consumer awareness and adoption of sustainable alternatives to everyday products through high added-value good and conscious design. Traditionally, ‘sustainable’ has been associated with a more rustic, DYI design language. We aim to change that. We also want to generalize sustainable design and turn it into an everyday thing.

 Your color palette?

We at SUSDESIGN prefer to use the natural color palettes of the materials we utilize in our products. Occasionally, we play with color in the form of non-toxic water-based inks and dyes (as in the case of some CORQUE furniture), however, for us nature has its unique aesthetic appeal. We integrate color, just when it is relevant to the design, for instance to integrate a cultural pattern – as in the case of our Moorish desk and table and Beja sideboard. In these cases, we use a water-based digital printing process which does not impact the cork material.

How important are scale and proportion?

Scale and proportion are of utmost importance for us – both in terms of production and use. For the majority of our materials, we are of course tied to the limitations of the cork materials industry, and changing production platforms that have existed for decades is a very expensive process that they don’t really have incentive to do. This affects scale.

We can and do, however, in part overcome these limitations by designing modular systems that slot or nest into each other to create larger scale solutions, as well as increased customizability – as in the case of our Cellula and Eliptica shelf systems, and Lagarta stools.

Finally, for us, the tactile experience of the material is also fundamental. Thus, to compensate for the lack of furnishings, we have to maximize the ergonomic aspects of the pieces. This also requires certain proportions and scales.

SUSDESIGN was a part of ECO Solidarity 2022 presented by WantedDesign Manhattan, which showcased future-forward design solutions from nine emerging European design studios. 

For more, go here.

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Michael Welton
I write about architecture, art, and design for national and international publications. I am the author of "Drawing from Practice: Architects and the Meaning of Freehand" (Routledge, 2015), and the former architecture critic for the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C.




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