by Jincy IypeAug 12, 2022
Beyond the contemporary and utilitarian, there lies a liminal construct of space that engages with nature, the semantics of which have been explored and practised at length. Now, the predominant narrative of 'impressive' architecture is often depicted and accepted through buildings that wow, vis-à-vis, their spectacular scales, dancing facades, premium interiors, and modern, 'world-class' features. Yet, the intervention of the built as a public space design has always inculcated avenues of expression, experiences, and emotions, especially relying on consistent proximity to nature. Regardless of scale or aesthetics, an architecture of simplicity, an architecture that abides by nature, is intentional and monastic, embodying the absolute minimal and reduced to the very essentials, speaking to our souls, absolving our vampiric tendencies and conditioning, if only for a moment. Is there a way to describe the allure of simplicity through spaces exploring emptiness and silence?
Relatedly, the recognised, calming attributes of Japanese culture and architecture, specifically the free-standing, charming tea houses, seeks to contribute to a world less detached from nature, and more attuned to its inherent beauty, and how it impacts us. The chashitsu, typically installed with shōji windows and sliding doors made of wooden lattice clothed in translucent Japanese paper; tatami mat floors; tokonoma alcove; extend to a verdant garden, and are accompanied by subdued and earthy colour palettes and a simpler aesthetic. These cosy homes meant for hosting calming tea ceremonies communicate deep respect for nature in their pacific-built intervention, instilling a sense of connection with our natural and built environment.
A quaint, liminal, and contemporary take on traditional Japanese architectural aesthetics, spatiality, and materiality, the Tea House Pavilion, resting serenely on the bank of the dam in Český Těšín in Czech Republic, was created by GRAU Architects, ‘as an intervention in public space,' as part of the 2022 Mood for Wood international design workshop. "When thinking about the concept, we start from the traditional Japanese architecture of tea houses rendered with contemporary means of expression. We work with a simple design principle of connecting wooden elements that create a complex static structure," the Slovakian architects reveal.
"The pavilion invites people to a close experience with nature, focusing visitors' attention on the water reservoir—views, sounds, movements. It forces a person to stop, to slow down, thanks to the endless view into the treetops, the defined view of the boundless calm water surface, and the gentle closure from the surrounding bustle of everyday life," says GRAU architects, an architectural studio based in Bratislava, Slovakia.
Featuring a monastic interior that conspicuously attests to its exterior, the pavilion comfortably accommodates up to six people who may sit face-to-face around the table during tea ceremonies, providing the setting a 'certain impression of intimacy.' The subtle and light open construction of the Tea House pavilion also makes reference to the traditional Japanese interior, while weaving modern elements into it, fitting in 'harmoniously and delicately' into its verdant and aquatic environment.
The final pavilion design also features a transference of several rules pertaining to the traditional tea ceremony—when entering the Tea House, each visitor is compelled to bend down in order to pass under the lowest horizontal beam of the structure, which refers to the niriji-guchi door, a 'symbol of the equality of all participants in the ceremony.' Simultaneously, on entering, a 'rectifying view' opens up attention towards the water reservoir.
A low table affixed at the centre of the pavilion’s sparse interior design encourages guests to sit on their knees, as is customary within Japanese culture. The stiffening of the lower part of the structure with plywood boards provides an experience of privacy as well as detachment from exterior noises. The open entrance frame frames a tranquil view into the interior, as passers-by can witness the tea ceremony in progress.
The height of the table’s design endows the minimal architecture with versatility while being used during the tea ceremony, or functioning as a bench, offering a place for sitting and quiet contemplation, and by doing so, "following the Japanese ideology focused on simplicity and aesthetic sophistication," elaborates GRAU architects, which is led by Andrej Olah and Filip Marčák. This table is the sole, central piece of furniture that dresses the pavilion’s insides, its depth allowing participants of the ceremony to sit in close proximity, fostering a feeling of respect and mutuality.
"The pavilion has a multifunctional character and, in addition to the tea ceremony, it can also function as a pleasant summer pavilion with soothing views of nature. The square-shaped floor plan refers to simplicity, and the use of primary elements depicts the symbol of matter and man," they continue. The minimal design of the pavilion therefore, bases itself on a simple plan area of 3 x 3 m with a height of 4 m, "which is also the structural height of wooden spruce prisms of square cross-section and the maximum permitted height of the pavilion," the architects relay. Its raw wooden elements are complemented by a soft white fabric, almost spiritual, injecting a feeling of cosiness. The fabric also keeps the aesthetic of the pavilion minimalist, in a bid to not distract from the tea ceremony, and from its users from 'achieving a sense of peace and harmony.'
Diagonally fixed fabric accompanied by the two closing side walls with birch plywood also helps augment the created impression of privacy, apart from serving as protection against sun and rain. In tandem, the temporary installation's frame remains airy, open, and light, enough to allow proper ventilation, as well as a soulful connection with the exterior and the creation of non-traditional views, owing to its intention to emphasise the visitor’s attention on the water.
The ascetic material palette is joined by spruce wood (structure of the pavilion, structure of the bench, and floor planks), birch plywood (side covering and seat of the bench) as well as white geotextile that serves as the pavilion’s roofing material. The employed wood will age gradually, bringing a more natural essence into the design, while its joinery details attest to those in Japanese design and architecture. The nine sqm tea house was designed to cater to unknown guests, for anyone who would want to take some time off their lives, sit by the river and natural landscape, to pause, observe, relax, and contemplate. At night, the pavilion takes on a liminal position on the waterbody, a lantern glowing on the sides of a threshold.
Textiles employed in two levels bring a certain play to the wooden architecture, "which is meant to evoke traditional Japanese architecture," according to GRAU. "We are always trying to fit context in context, to not fake, and work with honest materials and approaches. We work from the whole to detail, from vision to realisation. We are constantly looking for a connection between the interior and exterior," they say, attesting to the pacific nature of the Tea House Pavilion.
Name: Tea House Pavilion
Location: Hrabinka Lake, Český Těšín, Czech Republic
Year of completion: 2022
Area: 9 sqm
Client: Mood for Wood
Architect: GRAU architects
Design team: Andrej Olah, Filip Marčák, Jana Filípková, Alexandra Májska; Julia Kurnik, Alicja Łosik, Alexandra Gospodarek, Katarzyna Owczarska, Maria Pawłova, Maciej Kuratczyk, Michał Teodorczyk, Jan Chmurski (students, workshop participants)