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Helsinki Tea House

The project is a collaboration between Sami Rintala, and students and tutors from the University of Westminster and Aalto University. The starting point for the pavilion was the celebration of 100 years of Finnish-British collaboration. We soon decided on a Tea house, quintessentially British, built with Finnish Timber on a prominent site in Helsinki. The design began in London with a 5-day design workshop hosted by the Fabrication Lab. Students and tutors spent the week drawing, modelling and making prototypes for the design. We investigated how the act of drinking tea could be expressed in a structure, looking at existing typologies like the tea pavilion and canteen, as well as styles characteristic of English architectural identity. The design process then continued in Finland with students from Aalto refining the structure and designing timber joints optimised for the form of the pavilion.

The structure of the pavilion itself is a reinvention of a traditional hammer-beam ceiling used in English Gothic architecture and notably seen in the roof of Westminster Hall in London. We played with the idea of morphing traditional forms that signify a particularly British architectural identity and how they might be transformed for a Finnish context in Helsinki. Working with the Wood Program at Aalto University, we used 5-axis CNC machined joints for the structural frame produced in the university’s new workshops, paired with more traditional methods on site employing Japanese hand saws and chisels. This dual use of wood shows both the economy and versatility of a material that expresses Finland’s long standing history of forestry and skilled wood-working.

As a way of renewing the culture of tea drinking, prevalent in Britain but less common in Finland, we see that this hall-like space offers an opportunity for taking a pause in the city. With a place to sit or lean with a cup of tea, the interaction between furniture, shelter and site allows for visitors to rest, contemplate and share the experience of enjoying tea communally. Sitting in front of the Design Museum the furniture also reinterprets the patterns of William Morris, a renowned Arts and Crafts designer in Britain, with digitally carved panels reimagining the colour, craft and textures of the quintessential English tea room.