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Rust coloured leaves fall leisurely among villagers huddled under an aged tree, leaning by a sparkling lake. The succinct smell of freshly brewed tea wafts over the gathering, taking over muffled conversations between friends, as diffused light throws dancing shadows over the daily communal ritual.
Architectural studio Waterfrom Design has realised a tranquil Tea Community Centre in Xiamen, China, with its light filled spaces centered around a small tree. The multipurpose structure is replete with the purpose of enjoying a cup of tea within a warm, minimal space. The two-story tea pavilion sits nestled beneath a body of water and is partly obscured from the outside. Commissioned by Zhongnan Real Estate, the building serves as a sales office, but will function as a community centre for the neighbourhood at large, in the future.
Chinese firm Waterfrom Design draws inspiration from The Peach Blossom Spring, a Chinese tale where a fisherman goes along a creek, and accidentally discovers ‘Arcadia’, a vision of individuals existing in peaceful harmony with nature. The Tea Community Centre hopes to mimic that scene, bringing in a community from urban chaos to a quiet, tranquil space. The structure, thus, nurtures a refined interplay of water and air, of light and shadow, culminating in a warm, light filled space, liberated from the bustling of the outside world.
The transparent, circular atrium enveloping the tree punctures the structure’s centre till the lower levels, bringing in natural light into its depths. In Xiamen culture, villagers used to gather around a tree to meet, exchange information and foster relationships - the tree is representative of the collective memory of a communal gathering.
The first level sees the entrance and the reception area enclosed within a glass pavilion through which the tree and pool can be seen, and where visitors are ushered into a silent, unadorned space. This space is designated for preparing and serving tea, symbolising the calming, age-old Xiamen ritual of boiling water and brewing tea for friends, attempting to capture the essence of drinking tea, as a ‘gesture of freeing and calming our mind’. A long, copper table is seen here, decorated with a hollow that holds water. The water flows from the interiors into the pool outside, symbolising the traverse of a river.
An opening on the floor next to the tea room leads one further down into a larger basement area. Described by the architects as “the cave below the lake”, the basement is darker than the landscape above, creating contrast with the light filled courtyard. A scene of exceptional calm awaits, resembling the simplest appearance of the heaven and the earth. “People can gather under the tree, enjoy time together, observe the day and night and the four seasons. As they sip a cup of tea, they could feel themselves surpassing the order of the bustling city, a comfortable breath in the rhythm of life,” shares the Waterfrom Design team.
Most functional spaces are situated in the lower level, as the architecture intends to connect the landscape to the ground. One finds areas designated for dining, reading, tea drinking and relaxation, in tandem with a lecture hall, gallery and an office. The expansive space lends to the summery- interior, its décor accentuated by a natural and earthy material palette. Waterfrom Design has sought to create a conscious, bare space formed with simple, straight lines rather than unnecessary ornamentation, where visitors are drawn into simplicity, away from distractions. Here, one is urged to participate in pottery, and a tactile interaction is provided by an interactive sculpture. “Under simplicity, the users can perceive the natural light and shadow without interruption. There is no frustration in this space.”
The Tea Community Centre also houses a reading room, adept with wooden bookshelves, furniture, and handmade ceramics. “In order to retain the detachment from the outside world, we chose warm, natural and simple materials, and maintained the pure texture and tactility,” explain the architects. Along with ‘reading under the lake’, seating arrangements and a gallery space is delegated for lectures, which will most likely be used for exhibitions as well.
Waterfrom Design’s Tea Community Centre, whether used as a sales office or a public activity building in the future, aims to create a space where individuals can gather around the tree, talk about their daily lives or just find a quiet space to read a book, and sip a hot cup of tea. Taking cue from the tale Peach Garden, architects envision the place to be filled with simple and honest people, living in a harmonious atmosphere. “We hope this scene will reappear here. No matter how bustling the outside world is and how the city has changed, find the entrance to the Arcadia and dive to the bottom of the lake, and you will always find tranquility from an unusual perspective,” concludes the firm.
Name: Tea Community Centre
Location: Xiamen, China
Design programme: Sales center, reception center, tea area, ladder rest area, reading area, kitchen, dining area and office
Area: 750 sqm
Year of completion: December 2019
Client: Zhong Nan Group
Architect: Waterfrom Design (Nic Lee. Elvin Ke. Richard Lin. Eugene Huang. Morgan Chen)
Interior stylist: Waterfrom Design. Gravity
Core materials: Limestone, sandstone, luanta-fir, red copper with black oxide, borne copper with black oxide, hand paint and artificial stone
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