TEA HOUSES By Swatt Miers

Architects Swatt Miers have suspended three glass pavilions over the edge of a valley in northern California. Located in the grounds of the client’s home, the three Tea Houses were designed to provide quiet, contemplative spaces that are free from the distractions of television, internet, telephone and even music. The largest of the three pavilions provides a workspace that can also be used for hosting small parties, while the second is for sleeping and the third was conceived as a meditative space for a single person. Overhanging trees shade the transparent glass walls, which are held in place by horizontal steel joists and vertical concrete cores.

A bathroom bridges the largest of the two rooms and underfloor heating keeps each space warm. The idea for the Tea Houses originated when the client and architect partnered years earlier on the sustainable remodel of the 6,000 square foot main house. During construction the client found respite in a remote location on the site, below a ridge an under a grove of Heritage California Live Oaks. As a high-tech Silicon Valley executive, the desire was to create a place where he could simply retreat into nature. Years later the vision was realized as three individual Tea Houses.

The 270 square foot ‘meditating’ Tea House, nestled under the canopy of the largest oak tree, is a place for individual meditation. The slightly larger ‘sleeping’ Tea House, approximately 372 square feet, is a space designed for overnight stays. This structure is joined by a sky-lit bathroom ‘bridge’ to the largest Tea House. At 492 square feet, the ‘visioning’ Tea House is for intimate gatherings and creative thinking. The notion of ‘quiet simplicity’ is a consistent theme throughout – there are to be no phones, internet, televisions or audio systems within the structures.‘Respect’ and ‘restraint’ are the principles that would guide the construction, and extreme care is taken to minimize impacts to the landscape.

The design concept of three separate’ micro’ structures, versus one large structure, enables the project to tread lightly on the land. And to ensure preservation of the Heritage Oaks’ root systems, the teahouses are literally lifted off the ground, supported by cast-in-plate concrete structural cores. Steel-channel rim joists cantilever beyond the vertical cores to support the floor and roof platforms. The Tea Houses are passively cooled to eliminate the noise impact from mechanical systems. Steel-framed doors and awning windows provide high/low ventilation.

Natural cooling is further enhanced by shading from strategically located landscaping, including evergreen oaks, bamboo, deciduous maple and gingko trees. Heating is distributed through a quiet and efficient in-floor radiant system. The sculptural interpretation of a simple tea house has succeeded in a magnificent tribute to the beauty of nature.

As the sunlight and shadows move across the hillside the Tea Houses take on different forms- at sunrise the structures disappear into the long shadows; the soft silhouette of the midday sun casts dramatic reflections off the glass; and by evening, the structures glow like lanterns.

Viewed from afar or viewed from within, the Tea Houses are works of art living amongst the trees and grasses of their native California hillside. For more information or to get in touch with the architects, follow the link bellow.