Approach to Tea House

With a site just outside the Perth CBD selected, I turned my attention to the guests’ experience as they approach the entry of the tea house. The elements to follow are perhaps some of the most crucial, engaging two of the four tea ceremony principles, ‘Wa’ and ‘Kei’. ‘Wa’, meaning harmony, is represented in the design in the form of a garden at the entry of the tea house. These gardens are intended to be filled with plants and foliage that are locally growing, as they reflect the seasonal changes in their colourings, bringing to the guests’ attention the change of seasons. ‘Kei’ meaning purity is reflected in the design by an element known as a tsukubai, this is usually a hollowed stone filled with water, in which the guests must wash their hands before reaching the entrance to the tea house.

With a contemporary Australian perspective at the forefront of this project, I began to think about how these elements would transform themselves into a setting appropriate for people working within the CBD, needing to escape momentarily, whilst still in keeping with the ritualistic nature and intent of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony.

In doing this I considered elements such as access, whilst the two-hundred-year-old tea house I visited in Kyoto was an enlightening experience, it certainly did not consider or allow for disability access. Although this project is fictitious and experimental, a contemporary Australian approach to any design element would always be inclusive.

When exploring the conceptual approach to the entry of the space I reflected on research into the origins of the tea ceremony. With the ceremony’s roots in China, deriving from the spiritual practice of tea drinking by monks; a way of achieving Zen, the circular form of the entry as diagrammed, is inspired by the moon gates often found at the entry of Zen gardens within monasteries. To incorporate a West Australian context into this element, I looked to materiality. As locally sourced rammed earth reflects the reddish tinge of the West Australian landscape, I imagined this element with this vision in mind.

The tsukubai was the next design element I focused my attention on, with the hollowed stone typically being placed on the garden floor, this brought about issues of access for those with mobile disabilities. Not only this, the traditional tsukubai was simply filled with water as if it were a bowl. Hence presenting another issue, relating to that of health, becoming ever so more relevant, in today’s everchanging Covid-19 climate.

To incorporate this element within the design of the entry to the tea house, keeping its symbolic nature, and its importance in the ritual of the ceremony, the way in which it would be expressed as a design element would need to reflect these concerns. As reflected diagrammatically, I have imagined this version of the tsukubai as being an external basin. Guests would still be required to wash their hands as a ritual symbolizing purity, however in a way that reflects contemporary concerns.

This approach to incorporating the intent of the traditional elements with a modern design expression is something I would continue to use as I began to design the teahouse itself.


Bullen, Richard. “Chinese Sources in the Japanese Tea Garden.” Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes 36, no. 1 (2016): 5–16.

Peter, Marc. The Japanese tea garden. no.1 (2014):17-34. Stone Bridge Press, Berkeley CA

Rob Harle. “The Art of Setting Stones and Other Writings from the Japanese Garden.” Leonardo (Oxford) 39, no. 3 (2006): 264–65.

Rika, Richard. 2016. “CHANOYU, THE JAPANESE TEA CEREMONY”. Japan Experience, Febuary 15, 2016.