Tea is not just another hot drink in China, it’s a way of life — something valuable enough that a building can be built just for drinking it slowly in a contemplative natural setting. Such is the case for the Bamboo Courtyard Teahouse recently opened on the edge of, and partially floating in, a lake in Shiqiao Garden northwest of Shanghai.
Designed by architect Sun Wei of the HWCD firm, the teahouse uses overlapping grids of horizontal and vertical bamboo poles, which grow abundantly in the area and are fast-growing. Left in their natural state, the harvested poles create semi-transparent screens between the various courtyard areas, providing easy ventilation and partial shade for the tea-sipping guests.
Viewed from the lake itself, the Bamboo Courtyard Teahouse resembles a simple square block of bamboo poles that appear to grow directly out of the lake. Inside the bamboo walls, however, is a series of labyrinthine courtyards and wooden-plank patios, each of which provides a view of water and sky. Some rooms on the outer walls also provide views of the surrounding lake.
While the bamboo walls and screens are arranged at right angles to one another in rectangular patterns, many of them are overlain by a permeable trellis of widely spaced bamboo poles that are set diagonally atop the walls. In full sun, the poles create sharp, sometimes disorienting patterns of striped shadows that fall on the visitors below. The overall effect for each individual patio is one of enclosure, yet the space is fully open to the elements and most of the daylight.
The 4,300-square-foot collection of floating courtyards is anchored, physically and stylistically, by a cluster of rectangular brick buildings that can be used for parties, presentations and meetings. These brick structures, with glassed-in enclosures, help retain heat in the winter, thus reducing energy costs.
At night, the patterns of light and shadow are reversed. The interior courtyard is bathed in cove lighting, made more golden by the light reflected off the bamboo. From the outside, the gaps between the bamboo stalks allow light to bleed through and add more visually striking patterns across the water.