Tea House in Barbican

Terunobu Fujimori, Hayatsu Architects , London , 2017


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Japanese tea house

The design principle of the tea house was established in Japan around four hundred years ago. Since, the internal configuration has been fixed to four and half tatami mats, equating to three by three meters square. A gathering of four to five people come together in the room to participate in the tea ceremony, typically discussing topics close at hand such as the tools involved in the preparation of the tea or the picture displayed on the wall. A ceremony can last up to four hours with small meals provided in between.

The Barbican Tea House was originally designed by Terunobu Fujimori for the exhibition ‘The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945.’ Rather than interested in the replication of a traditional Japanese tea room, Fujimori utilizes the typology in his search for the minimum space of the atomic cell in architecture. Cubic in plan with circular openings for windows, the structure is lifted up onto four round timber legs.

Guests enter the tea house from a hatch in the floor, ducking and squeezing through the opening, emphasizing the moment of ingress for a world left behind. The building comes alive with the presence of fire introduced within, allowing for the preparation of tea and tea ceremony to take place. The exterior is clad in vertical stripes of black Yakisugi (an ancient Japanese wood charring technique) and white plaster. The black and white exterior is demur, the large round window framing an illuminated interior scene.

Hayatsu Architects and the students from Kingston University worked with Fujimori to prefabricate the structure in the university’s workshops, which was flat packed and transported to The Barbican for assembly. The hearth, vase, lampshades, stools and doorknobs were crafted by the students and incorporated into the landscape and setting of the tea house. Crushed charcoal lumps were applied by hand onto the interior plaster walls by Fujimori, Hayatsu and his students.

The Barbican Tea House has been donated to Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and is awaiting re-erection for permanent installation in the children’s hospital.


  • Begun: Jan 2017
  • Completed: Mar 2017
  • Floor area: 9m2
  • Sectors: Arts and culture, Education
  • Total cost: £15,000
  • Funding: Barbican Centre
  • Tender date: Dec 2016
  • Procurement: self build
  • Address: Barbican Centre Silk Street, London , EC2Y 8DS, United Kingdom

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