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Monday, March 17, 2008

Bridging Tea House



Bridging Tea House in Jinhua, China by LAR / Fernando Romero

Photographs are by Iwan Baan.

As an architect practicing in Mexico Fernando Romero -- director and founder of Laboratory of Architecture (LAR) -- is concerned with borders and the bridging of borders, be it physically, socially, environmentally, or in other ways. His recent book Hyberborder is surely indicative of this consideration, as is his design for a museum that would actually span the border between the United States and Mexico, as a museum "devoted to the migration flows between the two countries."

This tea house in Jinhua Architectural Park is a small-scale version of that unbuilt museum, suitably called the Bridging Tea House and based on "two fundamental elements in the typological conformation of Chinese gardens: the bridge and the teahouse." Like the museum which acted as bridge and exhibition space simultaneously, this design does double duty.

The concrete -- painted a striking red over every surface -- also achieves a similar dual function by acting as structure and container. What is a basically an oddly shaped truss -- with a top and bottom chord and connecting braces -- allows for the internal spaces, be they steps from one side to the other or "micro ambience platforms" for people to enjoy tea. The complex, asymmetrical shape allows for a variety of experiences for the users, including the space itself as well as the view and the approach in and through what the architect calls "the structural maze."

In both the US-Mexico border museum and this small pavilion in China, the architect treats the bridge with an abrupt change at its high point, rather than articulating the walking surface smoothly as is more commonly done. This kink makes the act of bridging more noticeable; it acknowledges the point at which one side is separated from the other side. In the case of the US-Mexico border this point is highly contested, but in this case instead of being political it is rather a formal maneuver, albeit one that successfully melds structure and function.

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