Located in the Xuhui Area of Shanghai, China and designed by the team at Atelier Deshaus the Tea House in Li Garden is a green jewel that makes a stark statement in the concrete jungle it is nestled in.
Dictated by the placement of a looming paulownia tree, the Tea House flanked by two office buildings had a major challenge – to ensure that the aesthetics it creates is enough to transform this otherwise “residual” space into an engaging user friendly domain. The most crucial aspect of the design was to ensure that the human scale of the structure is maintained while balancing the relatively small 110 sq m garden area and the tall paulownia tree that looms over the space.
The highlight of the design is the effortless way in which the structure juxtapositions itself with nature. Upon entering the space from the gate at the far end, the courtyard in the front presents a refreshing zone before you enter the actual Tea House.
Laden with cobbled stones and terrain conscious landscaping, the courtyard paves the way for the tea house. The team shared, “We decided to put the building in the northwest corner where the paulownia stands, clinging to the back wall. In doing so, the Tea House would enjoy a relatively complete and large courtyard towards the gate. While at the same time, we cut the volume facing the paulownia into an ‘L’ shape, thus forming a tiny backyard.
This backyard functions as an outdoor room complementary to the Tea House.” This aspect of the design showcasing the massive trunk of the tree underlines only one thing – the paulownia tree houses the tea house and not the other way around!
Synonymous to the design and planning of any tea house, the planning is very straightforward and minimalistic. The main room of purpose is attached with a small wet area/kitchenette at a raised level. In an almost altruistic sense, the materials used inside are monotone, and almost monochromatic making the structure blend in with the surroundings without taking away from the natural overtones surrounding it. A welcoming timber floor lends warmth to the place that is extended to the wall in the form of timber shelves.
Floor to ceiling glass ensures that there is no single space without the influx of natural light. Ribbed glass panes on the top and bottom ends of the glass walls add to the play of light from the outside. Further adding to the minimalistic and functional nature of the design, a suspended ceiling was introduced to hide the structural cross members and lighting elements while keeping services such as air-conditioning below the floor.
The structural elements are the true conductors of this smartly orchestrated design. The main structure is made of 60mm black steel tubes, making the whole building very undemanding. The cantilevered roof lends an overhang that covers more than twice the actual floor area below, cocooning the space below it. However, the designers at Atelier Deshaus snuck in remarkable details to ensure that the design resonates with the environment around it.
One of the main features is the bench supported by cantilevered steel sections that makes it look like it is floating in mid air. “In order to link the building to the garden without disturbing it, we add three horizontal cantilevers at different heights: the one at 45cm high works as a bench encircling the building both inside and outside; the one at 1.8m high extends the interior space into the courtyard and marks the human scale of the corridor; and the roof is the last cantilever.” said the team. This in totality satisfies the need for a conscious human scale when designing a space that is “one with nature”.
The erudite Tadao Ando once said, “We borrow from nature the space upon which we build” and the ‘Tea House in Li Garden’ is deeply conscious of this fact.
Text By Virupa Kantamneni
Photographs Courtesy Tian Fangfang