To fill an unconventional space with light that now houses Posuo Li Teahouse in Zhengzhou, China, designer Chong Wang drew inspiration from a nearly century-old book exploring the connection between Japanese culture and its aesthetic manifestations. Illuminated by the observations described in Junichiro Tanizaki’s “In Praise of Shadows,” Wang, founder of Wang Chong Studio in Beijing, transformed the split-level structure into an oasis, enabling guests to reconnect to their innate human instincts. Natural light pours into the teahouse from the East and West through tall windows, but is absent in the midsection, creating an opportunity for Wang to “achieve the unity and function of the form,” he says, by designing a central courtyard.
The tranquil courtyard features a sunken, rectangular basin, which suggests an absence that the mind is meant to fill; it is a pool without water, a frame without a picture. The rough stone that lines it creates a contrast between the smoothness of the surrounding wood floor, which stretches upward onto the walls and covers the ceilings. This contrast, a theme throughout the teahouse, represents the idea that balance requires imperfection, a concept central to the Japanese aesthetic philosophy known as wabi-sabi. The courtyard is a site that, in the dimness of the structure’s center, allows visitors “to regain their memory” of the preciousness of maintaining a connection to nature, says Wang.
Just as shadows reflect unknowns, the teahouse also harbors a few secrets—one being the bamboo silhouettes visible in the courtyard. While the bamboo seems to rustle with the breeze outside, the movement is created with a fan, casting an illusion inspired by Hasegawa Tohaku's famed Shorin-zu-byobu, also known as the “Pine Trees” screen, in which several phantasmal pines are enshrouded by negative space. And another? The markers that line the path from the midsection of the space are composed of artificial stones surrounded by natural ones—obscuring the boundaries between the natural and manmade within the teahouse. Oak furnishings sourced from local markets bring the rituals of the past to the present, where such furnishings, sought-after decades ago, have returned to current trends, says Wang. The resulting teahouse is as much of a space to reflect on what it means to be human as it is a space to reflect on nature; both worlds come together over a cup of tea.