Umbrella Teahouse was built by 10 first and second year architecture students from the Welsh School of Architecture, during a three week intensive studio programme in April / May 2013. The studio was led by tutors Takeshi Hayatsu, Shibboleth Shechter and Sam Clark. The teahouse was built in the Temple of Peace Gardens at the University as a temporary structure providing a place to sit and enjoy the spring garden.

The design of the Umbrella Teahouse is based on the 16th Century Japanese teahouse Kasa-Tei in Kyoto, Japan. It is situated on the steep slope of Gion Mountain in Western Kyoto overlooking the city centre, as part of the Zen Garden in Kodaiji Temple. ‘Kasa’ means umbrella in Japanese, named after the unique tall roof structure made out of bamboo and straw. The roof is lightly propped on naturally bent logs formed into a tie beam and off-center column. The teahouse is a simple structure, yet spatially complex due to its articulation in section. Split floor levels and a series of sliding screens and top hang shutters create an adaptive environment that is both open to the landscape and closed around its ceremonious dwellers. 


Kasa-Tei is thought to be designed by Sen No Ryikyu, the Japanese tea master who established the Wabi-Cha style aesthetic movement through his tea ceremonies under the rein of Shogun Tokugawa during the 16th Century. Wabi-Cha calls for a reduced, simple and humble aesthetic. Wabi-Cha references Sou-An, a small ‘shack made out of weed’ found outside the city, and Minka, vernacular farmhouses, with mud walls and thatched roofs. In the original Kasa-Tei, readily available local materials were used, such as bamboo and bent logs, and mixed in a playful way. 

The studio was  interested in transforming the original teahouse into something new, by mixing up traditional Japanese and Welsh building techniques with contemporary standardised building components and domestic household materials. The proportion of the space including windows and doors follows the original Kasa-Tei teahouse, reduced by 75% for reasons of economy and a desire to make a child-friendly environment.


Students began the studio by collecting the teahouse materials from local sources. A farm just one mile outside Cardiff city centre provided soil, straw, cow and horse dung for wattle and daub, a traditional Welsh mud wall-building technique. With the permission of Forestry Commission Wales the students coppiced hazel and collected air dried logs from fallen trees in a forest, 7.5 miles due North of Cardiff.


The timber frame was constructed using standardised softwood of various sizes, donated by Western Timber Association.  Decking boards are arranged to mimic the grain of the tatami mat floor in the original teahouse. A lattice of small roofing battens forms the umbrella roof structure, wrapped with hand folded aluminum tinfoil sheets.

The resulting teahouse is a collage of old and new, natural and manmade materials. The tinfoil is a good reflector of light, which bounces around the interior of the teahouse, creating a shimmering effect. Its thin surface rattles when it catches raindrops, and makes mesmerizing sound when wind blows through it. Large openings frame views to the garden and invite people to sit in the sun or rain, to enjoy the surrounding spring flowers and tree leaves. 

We engaged with the local Japanese community in Cardiff, by means of a one-day daubworkshop. Volunteer children and adults joined students in paddling raw materials and applying the resulting daub mixture to the walls. The original Kasa-Tei was first built in Azuchi castle outside of Kyoto, then later moved to its current location in Kodaji Temple, adapting its orientation and arrangement in relation to the garden setting. Similarly the Umbrella Teahouse was relocated to Cardiff Central Library, coinciding with the Cardiff Japan Day event on 25th May 2013


Takeshi Hayatsu, Shibboleth Shechter, Sam Clark


Myoung Bae, Amelia Brown, Hannah Bloor, Alex Davidson, Pablo Fuster, Tom Guinane, Jo Hart, Michael Mitchell, Lauren Searle, Matt Sinderberry


Western Timber Association

Forestry Commission Wales

Stockland Farm

Japanese Society Wales

Midori Matsui MBE

Bet Davis of Wales Millennium Centre

Cardiff Central Library

Kodaiji Temple, Kyoto Japan


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