“Cork is an amazing and unique material, and its set of unique properties is almost too good to be true”
The Norwegian designer Lars Beller Fjetland talks about how the opportunity and inspiration arose to create the Porto and Lisboa cork tiles for the Knoll’s Beller collection. These pieces, which won two awards in the USA, were exhibited on NeoCon 2016 at Knoll’s showroom, one of the most renowned North American manufacturer of modern furniture for home and office. The designer also highlights cork’s properties which make it an exceptional raw material for different creations.
“The amazing thing about cork is that it’s fully compatible with mass production in most of its forms, and I am convinced that we are going to see a lot of new and innovative uses for this material in the future.”
– Lars Beller Fjetland, Designer
Inspired by techniques used in the traditional moulding of shoe soles, Lisboa and Porto are acoustically absorptive composite cork wall tiles composed of 16” square modules that are easily installed with a special pressure-fit rail system. Their design references Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer’s ceramic tiles, where five standard designs can be combined and rotated to create endless, unique patterns.
How and when did you have the idea of using this raw material (cork) to create the Beller Collection?
It all started in January 2015 when Benjamin Pardo, executive vice president at Knoll, reached out to me. Both he and Roger Wall, president of Spinneybeck, had been interested in adding cork products to the Knoll and Spinneybeck collection.
During their preliminary research they had come across some of my earlier work in cork, and I guess that they felt like I could be the right man for the job. We met and discussed various possibilities, but agreed to keep things open until our second meeting at the Knoll showroom during NeoCon 2015. I was introduced to the full Knoll and Spinneybeck collection, which was truly inspiring.
Spinneybeck is synonymous with high-end leathers, but they are also rapidly gaining ground in the world of tailor-made acoustic products and wall coverings. Working with sound and sound-absorption seemed like the perfect challenge, and I knew from previous experiences that cork could be an excellent fit.
The idea of using moulded cork as the starting point for a series of acoustic tiles came to me after visiting Amorim Cork Composites later that year. It was amazing to see the sheer scale of the Amorim operation and to see the entire process from the harvesting of the cork to the packaging of finished consumer products. I was especially curious about the moulding process, which eventually led to the idea of a series of wall-mounted tiles.
Cork is a natural, 100% recyclable and environmentally-friendly product. Were these characteristics important for your decision? Is sustainability a quality that you value when you choose a raw material?
Cork is an amazing and unique material, and its set of unique properties is almost too good to be true. The interesting thing is that it’s not just the material itself that is environmentally friendly; the whole process, from extraction to processing to manufacturing, has been tailored to have as little impact on nature as possible. Even the tiniest specs of cork dust end up as fuel, powering parts of the facilities.
I try to incorporate an aspect of both innovation and sustainability in all of my projects, and this is perhaps also the reason why I have chosen to work with cork on several occasions in the past. The amazing thing about cork is that it’s fully compatible with mass production in most of its forms, and I am convinced that we are going to see a lot of new and innovative uses for this material in the future.
I strongly believe that it’s our responsibility as designers to create products that solve existing problems without creating new ones. This is the only sustainable way of introducing a new product into the market. We need to be thinking about the entire lifecycle of a product, from cradle to grave. This should be the rule, rather than the exception.
“I am convinced that we are going to see a lot of new and innovative uses for this material in the future”
– Lars Beller
If you had to highlight two major advantages of cork, which ones would you choose?
One of the things that I find really fascinating about cork is that, in many ways, it acts like a very dense memory foam. It always bounces back to its original form after being subject to mechanical pressure. This unique trait is a result of its iconic hexagonal cellular structure that also gives the material the ability to store energy. It is truly remarkable that a wine stopper can keep a tight seal on a wine bottle for over a hundred years.
I have tried to make use of this particular feature in several projects, but it is perhaps more obvious in the patent-pending snap-on solution I designed for the Beller Collection. The tiles are fixed to an extruded aluminium rail with the exact same force it took to snap them on. This force remains more or less constant until the tile is removed. Tiny inventions like this one give me lots of joy and inspiration.
It’s almost impossible for me to choose my next favourite feature, as they are all equally great. Cork is lightweight, impermeable to liquids and gases, it is sound absorbing, an excellent insulator, fire retardant and the list goes on…
Tell us a bit about the inspiration and history behind the choice of the names for the tiles (Porto and Lisbon)?
The Porto tiles are actually inspired by industrial surfaces and architecture found in the city of Porto, ranging from factory ceilings and corrugated steel roofs to folding doors and rusty shutters.
The patterns and surfaces come across as familiar, creating the perfect neutral backdrop for both small and large spaces. It’s important for me to make sure that my designs can coexist with architecture, objects and nature in a harmonious way, and I strongly believe that the time when everyone and everything is screaming for attention is coming to an end.
The Lisboa series draws its inspiration from the unique city plan of the Baixa area, in downtown Lisbon. The signature square layout was developed in the mid-18th century when the city rose from its ashes. I also found inspiration in works by the great Oscar Niemeyer.
I must admit that I have fallen in love with Portugal, with its stunning nature, exquisite food and generous people. Naming the collections after the two largest cities in this great country was perhaps the easiest decision I have made so far in my career.
What do you think about the cork moulding properties? Do you consider it a good material to work with this technique?
I believe that moulding in an excellent alternative to machining, as it is more cost-efficient, offers a superior finish and uses less raw material.
It is really interesting being part of a team that is trying to take this technology to the next level, with a higher degree of both precision and automation. We are also looking for new ways of boosting the materials’ technical performance.
What feedback are you getting about this collection? How are people reacting to this artistic creation?
The reception of the Beller collection has exceeded all my expectations. We have already won two major awards in the US, and the feedback from architects, traders, and designers has been great.
The collection was launched at NeoCon last year, and it was great to experience the visitor’s reaction to the products first hand. I believe that about three out of four visitors couldn’t resist touching the tiles while walking through the buzzing showroom, and I see this as the ultimate sign of approval. I sincerely believe that humans benefit from daily interaction with natural materials, and cork is without a doubt an excellent addition to my alternative “5-a-day” prescription.
“The reception of the Beller collection has exceeded all my expectations.”
“We have already won two major awards in the US, and the feedback from architects, traders, and designers has been great.”
How do you rate the support of the Amorim Cork Composites team throughout the process?
The support provided by Amorim is second to none. This is a team that will go the extra mile to achieve something that is seemingly impossible. It’s a pleasure working with people that take such pride in what they do, and that offer a service and a product that is truly environmentally friendly.