Cha Le Tea Merchant

Leckie Studio Architecture + Design Inc.


Cha Le Merchant Teahouse provides a modernist interpretation to the traditional Chinese tea ritual “Cha dao”. The intervention seeks to consolidate a place to celebrate the ritual of tea-taking with a retail space where to learn more about the tradition and culture behind this millenarian drink. 

It’s a place to share knowledge and delight in the culture of tea and to learn about the process that goes behind the highly elaborated creation of tea - from growing the plants, to the curating, mixing, and blending. “When we spoke to the client the about the reference points and ideas for the project, we proposed that the space would feel like an apothecary - it would feel like a modern interpretation of a medicinal and spiritual place” explains Michael Leckie, Principal Architect.

Materiality is central to the tea ceremony – beyond the sensual qualities of the tea, the ‘interplay’ between natural elements in the space and objects of the ceremony equally informs the experience. The ceremony of exchange, and the concentration of awareness towards posture and gestures is articulated through simple objects. The senses are heightened by focusing on a single, humble material - plywood - and transforming it through a carefully considered and rigorous approach to detailing. 

The sculptural mass and quality of the 'tea bar' creates and shapes the space around it. The architects found inspiration in the Modernist sculptures of Donald Judd, in which the material is elevated through an attention to minimal assembly connections and geometric proportion. Cha Le makes use of a restrained quantity and minimal tonal qualities in the materials used. Humble archetypical materials forged into sleek, linear forms acknowledge the project’s rationalistic aesthetic while expressing a fresh interpretation of an ‘apothecary’ through a uniformity of lines and palettes. 

Whereas the ordering structure of the space may be described as rigid and orthogonal, the designers intentionally softened perceptual hard edges by choosing a warm, light palette that adds a sophisticated overall quality. The teahouse adopts a harmonic and subdued sense of lighting throughout the space. The specified panel lights emphasize and integrate the architectural grid, delivering a softened light to the space and establishing a harmonic grid of voids that optically multiply the space. Embedded within the grid, the light hovers in a mysterious manner, blurring over the crisp lines of the entire volume. Natural light is allowed to flood in through the shop-front, connecting the teahouse to the street-level patio.

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