BY DEMIE KIM
The famous architect Tadao Ando once described Japanese teahouses as containing “an infinitely expanding universe in an enclosed, very small space.”
Dating back to the 16th century, the Japanese tea ceremony (chanoyu), also known as the Way of Tea, is an intricately codified ritual in which a host prepares and serves matcha, or powdered green tea, for a number of seated guests. The ceremony typically takes place in a small and intimate tea room, where every detail—from the layout of the interior to the shape of the ceramic bowls—is designed to instill an appreciation for aesthetics and beauty.
Historically, these rooms were located in grass-thatched huts surrounded by peaceful gardens, offering a place to withdraw from the material distractions of the world and discover enlightenment in the everyday. Guests and hosts would enter the tea room through separate entrances. Inside, minimal furnishings—tatami floor mats, a sunken stove for heating the tea, spare flower arrangements, and a painted hanging scroll—helped to establish a contemplative mood.
Since the 1990s, contemporary architects have approached the challenge of modern teahouse design with an eye toward tradition, adhering to the ideals of simplicity and working on a small scale. But they have also approached them with a spirit of experimentation, evidenced in the following examples, which show a range of fantastical settings and the use of modern materials like glass and plastic.
Renowned Japanese designer Kuma created this tea pavilion for the 19th floor of a corporate and residential tower in Vancouver in 2017, on the occasion of a retrospective of his work in the city. Overlooking the bay and the Downtown district, the meditative structure is constructed on a raised wooden platform, which creates the illusion that it is serenely floating above the surrounding stones. Modern, functional additions to the traditional form include sliding glass walls, as well as an interior table on hydraulic supports that can be raised and lowered as needed.
Architect Terunobu Fujimori didn’t receive his first commission until age 44, after having worked as an architectural historian for three decades. He has since been widely recognized for his use of raw, natural materials and his strikingly playful and eccentric designs—including this “Too-High Tea House” in his father’s backyard in Nagano, Japan. Built on two 20-feet-tall chestnut trees, the house—which looks like it came straight out of a Miyazaki fairy tale—can only be accessed by climbing a ladder. Inside, a large window frames a scenic vista of his hometown………