If you’re familiar with the term ‘white space’ or ‘negative space’, then you’ll know that it is used widely in digital and print design. However, you could consider white space being used beyond digital and print. It applies to our physical environment too. A better term for this might be what the Japanese call ‘ma’. It’s a concept that can be described as an emptiness of space, a gap, or even silence. In its architectural context, ‘ma’ refers to the dimension of space between the structural posts of an interior. The layout is intentionally designed to encompass empty space. A perfect example of this would be a traditional Japanese tea room. No ornamentation, pure minimalism.
With such a space in mind, we draw our attention to the wonderfully serene structure that is the Vancouver Tea House designed by Japanese architect, Kengo Kuma. A rooftop terrace pavilion for traditional tea ceremonies, the space is a modern take on the usual tea house. Instead of designing a closed wooden structure in a garden or temple, Kuma chose the location as a space for stillness in a busy area, one that overlooks both the district and the bay. It’s an experiential juxtaposition.
Comprised of steel and glass to frame expansive views over Coal Harbour, the tea house utilises local materials, such as Douglas Fir for the exterior, rather than importing materials from Japan. The house is surrounded by pebbles and delicate moss, providing a refreshing contrast to the surrounding buildings.
The interior space is what you may expect of a modern tea house—quintessential minimalism. It features sliding walls and a low ceiling, with shoji screens covered in Japanese washi paper. The tea house embodies the philosophy of Chado, or ‘Way of tea’—a formal tea ceremony that is an iconic representation of Japanese culture, and closely aligned to the metaphysical notion of ‘being’.
This is a space for tea, a space for meditation, and a space that exemplifies architectural ‘ma’.