The famous architect Tadao Ando once described Japanese teahouses as containing “an infinitely expanding universe in an enclosed, very small space.”
Dating back to the 16th century, the Japanese tea ceremony (chanoyu), also known as the Way of Tea, is an intricately codified ritual in which a host prepares and serves matcha, or powdered green tea, for a number of seated guests. The ceremony typically takes place in a small and intimate tea room, where every detail—from the layout of the interior to the shape of the ceramic bowls—is designed to instill an appreciation for aesthetics and beauty.
Historically, these rooms were located in grass-thatched huts surrounded by peaceful gardens, offering a place to withdraw from the material distractions of the world and discover enlightenment in the everyday. Guests and hosts would enter the tea room through separate entrances. Inside, minimal furnishings—tatami floor mats, a sunken stove for heating the tea, spare flower arrangements, and a painted hanging scroll—helped to establish a contemplative mood.
Since the 1990s, contemporary architects have approached the challenge of modern teahouse design with an eye toward tradition, adhering to the ideals of simplicity and working on a small scale. But they have also approached them with a spirit of experimentation, evidenced in the following examples, which show a range of fantastical settings and the use of modern materials like glass and plastic.