The latest content and news from the Barbican. Book tickets at
The latest content and news from the Barbican. Book tickets at

How We Made a Japanese Tea House

Nestled in its own tranquil garden in The Japanese House exhibition, you are invited to step inside one of architect Terunobu Fujimori’s unique and playful tea houses. Leave your shoes in the cupboard and climb the ladder. Inside, you’ll notice a number of features from a large lampshade, the traditional tea house hearth and a charred wood décor across the walls. But how do you design and build a tea house for an art gallery?

We spoke to Kingston University architecture student and filmmaker, Ben Tynegate, about his experience working on this project.

You can also watch his short documentary on the design and construction of the tea house above.

‘The driving force behind Kingston University’s involvement with Fujimori’s Tea House is making and collaboration. As a Diploma Architecture Unit, the project illustrates our collective interest in hands-on making and our tactile approach to architecture.

Having explored and researched the use of timber and the work of Fujimori whilst in Japan, the unit employed our newly learnt skills and understanding of traditional construction techniques and architecture in translating Fujimori’s sketch designs for his Tea House into construction drawings. During the evolving design process, we established ourselves into working teams to efficiently tackle the many different facets of the project. A small team of students would communicate with Takeshi Hayatsu and Fujimori to envelop any changes required into the drawing sets that they were working on, whilst others began work on the prefabrication of the various elements of the Tea House at the 3D Workshop at Kingston University.

Following a construction dry-run of the primary structural elements of the Tea House at the university, Fujimori joined the unit in the UK to work closely with us in designing smaller elements such as the chimney and ladder. It was at this point that we made the Yakisugi for the Tea House, the characteristic charred timber that is a common theme in the work of Fujimori. At the Weald & Downland Living Museum, Fujimori demonstrated, then assisted us, in achieving the even burnt surface for use on the cladding and roof.

Constructing the Tea House in the art gallery space at the Barbican took roughly a week. The primary panellised structure had been designed to be flat packed and transportable, ensuring rapid assembly to allow enough time for finishes. Having experimented with a number of consistencies and techniques, the entire interior, and gaps between Yakisugi cladding was plastered whilst finishing touches from the Product Design department, and Bronze Casting designate were installed.

Although the unit has experience in previous 1:1 scale building projects, the collaborative nature and appreciation of materiality makes this project one that has been truly unique and enjoyable. Being able to work so closely with Fujimori in crafting the Tea House has given the students the chance to work in a multi-disciplined team, whilst being able to explore alternative techniques and approaches to architectural design and construction.’

Watch the full construction of the Tea House and Moriyama House in our timelapse:


Visit Fujimori’s Tea House for yourself in The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945 until 23 June 2017.

Images: Ben Tynegate; last image: Takeshi Hayatsu