Creation Of Tranquil And Ambient Space Cultural Studies Essay

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My major project is about the aspiration to create the meditative, spiritual, tranquil and ambient space, where people come to relieve the stress by relaxation, calming down, meditation, contemplation, enjoyment of various events and workshops throughout which they may sooth their tired bodies but more importantly, the minds. Inspired by the Eastern - Japanese approach to the general well-being and the Tea Ceremony or broader, the Way of Tea concept, this project also aims at simulation of a sacred atmosphere of a traditional Zen-Buddhist temples with its simplicity, tranquillity and quietness, adopted in such a contemporary and universal manner that both, Westerners as well as Japanese, would understand the message and may benefit from participating and use of this particular space on all levels - physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. This mission and balancing of human constitution may be achieved by ambivalent activities such as ordinary and yet, extraordinary drinking of the tea, contemplation and the creation of the arts and crafts, viewing the Zen garden, meditating facing the blank wall, indulging oneself in the hot thermal bath, thus brewing his body as a metaphor of the getting the essence of the tea itself.

The space I am designing is about giving a busy city dweller or visitor a chance to recall/remember that the material existence is only a part of this human life and that the inseparable triangle body-mind-soul, which the life of a man consist of, should be kept as much harmonious and holistic as possible and therefore needs its nutrition too. Contemplation in and of a quit, natural and simple space should be of a great help in this matter.

The place I am calling ZENTRE, is where the time has stopped or rapidly slowed down so the guest reflects on speed of regularly perceived time, which often restricts us from enjoying the daily ordinary activities, such as having a cup of tea, viewing the beauties of the nature around us, having a bath or even just sitting silently and doing nothing but breathing. Seems like a luxurious time to you? Well, for this reason, the people are supposed to take of their watches, shoes, remove any electronic devices, mobiles, i-pods etc. in order to shut off from the ordinary, mundane world and immerse their souls and bodies in the nutritious atmosphere and bitter essence of the green tea.

Reasons - what are you designing and why?... outcomes

C - ulture

H - ealth

A - menity

The main subject of my project is Tea or rather, Tea with all its consequences as emerged from the Japanese culture. The topic on tea of course is much broader. I can just briefly mention, how in 17th century, tea which was introduced from China and Japan, was valued as a medicine, curing as many as fourteen types of illnesses. Modern medicine supports this and proving that the compounds of the tea help to maintain and regain health as well as prevent ageing. But, important to say, that this is not that usual cup of tea with milk and sugar, which is popular in England. The enjoyment of the black tea is rather social, people chatting over a cup of tea several times a day. The kind of tea, of a significant medicinal value, is green and best in a form of a powder or loose leaves. The green tea, compared to other teas, contains the most nutrients and vitamin C, which is normally lost in the process of fermentation in the case of the black for example.

In Japan, the tradition of drinking a green tea, developed on one hand as the discipline of the Way of Tea, being passed down from master to a student, on the other, it become popular and inseparable part of Japanese lives in the modern society today. Moreover, tea become a partner ingredient in making the cooking, baking, even cocktail mixing, more pleasant and interesting.

In the Zentre, people attending the Japanese language course in the Institute, may find a great opportunity to practice what they have learned with a native speakers, and even better, to gain a better insight into the culture of their interest.

The space of the Zentre should also serve as a kind of environment for busy city dwellers who would like to enhance their almost forgotten spiritual or intellectual life and/or at least get some inspiration - from Eastern/Japanese philosophy, Zen, Tea Aesthetics, in order to search for a balanced well-being. The building, therefore, would serve as an "oasis" for soul-mind-body with a various division of a different function: thus, there is a Zen wall for a Zazen meditation session, changing its shape into a Tea room for not only the enjoyment of a bowl of a green tea but also for contemplation of its tranquil interior, dimmed light and the garden. Then there is also a water space, always related to tea and brewing. This pool with a thermal water allows a guess to brew off all negativity and stress accumulated in weeks, months even years without appropriate relaxation. All of these, the meditation, the tea and the swimming help people to slow down the never-ending stream of thoughts, worries, anxieties, and this way to achieve peace with oneself, harmony and spiritual satisfaction.

There is yet another reason of creating such a space. This reason is purely social in a sense that people in this atmosphere, finding balance within themselves, project this harmonious state onto their immediate environment, directly onto their fellow being. After restoring the humans internal peace, Zentre then brings people closer to each other, opening curiosity and genuine interest in each other, in this particular case, it brings Westerners and Japanese closer, it opens the dialogue of their cultures, values, opinions, life styles etc. It gives Japanese people an opportunity to step out of their usual shell of natural humbleness and shyness and discuss their background, how they feel about their cultural heritage, especially when living abroad. This way, themselves also reflect on their own identity and the mission they may have found in such a process.

Non-Japanese people then, especially those with an interest in Japanese culture, language, philosophy, Zen etc. , may study these topic deeper and more thoroughly and whatever they learn, incorporate then into their own understanding of world, into their modern life style


The building of the Phoenix Cinema, is located on the High Road 52 in East Finchley and was established in 1910.

The wider area of Barnet Borough, which includes Finchley Central, is home to 15% of London's Japanese population.

The area of East Finchley is vibrant, culturally interesting and relatively safe place with many communities living next to each other. Their life styles could be called parallel but generally, there is a missing link detected among them, especially when it comes to cultural activities and socializing. Thus, for example, there are Muslim woman's community, Jewish and Polish ones as well as Japanese, which, out of all, tends to behave the least communal. It is quite interesting to see that the Japanese mentality differs from other in a sense, that they do not look for too many friendships within their own group, rather, they are usually more open to a foreign, Western and towards anything different. They prefer socializing with non-Japanese friends and colleagues and there is a strong tendency and wish among Japanese women, to marry a Westerner, preferably British man. I sympathize with this kind of oneness towards foreign and different, but I think that Japanese have such a great cultural heritage to offer and share, that on the other hand, we, Westerners should learn from them and study their original values whether it is in the philosophical, religious, aesthetic or ecological domain. Thus, the space of this proposal, should make a good and reliable base for mutual meeting of the West and East.

The other supportive facts about the presence of the hidden Japanese community as well of those people, willing to socialize and learn from them, are the places and events, mainly on the High Road with a close and easy access to the current Phoenix Cinema.

In the Local Library, there is a Japanese Friendship Group which holds the meetings on monthly basis.

Other people, interested in Japanese culture, may as well sign up for a Japanese language course in the Institute across the road, taught by Japanese tutor, who herself used to practice the Tea Ceremony back home. Except of the languages, the Institute also offers courses in other fields: business, arts and crafts, digital arts, even Interior Design.

In Tosa, the Japanese restaurant, there are often mixed groups meeting throughout the busy week, whilst during the weekend, the place is busy and packed with Japanese families enjoying their national food and drinks.

Further down the High Road, there is a grocery shop called Atariya, which is a good source of information for Japanese, as they have a notice board there, announcing the Japanese mum and baby class among others.

JOBA International, which is the English Language School for Japanese is also very near, only one station by underground, Finchley Central. The woman working there confirmed the tendency of Japanese to hang out with Non-Japanese even though they occasionally attend events in London related to the Tea Ceremony for example)

building and its background

The Phoenix Cinema is and independent art house cinema owned and run by a charitable Trust since 1985. With its Edwardian and Art-Deco features is listed Grade II. The cinema is believed to be the oldest purpose-built and continuously serving cinema in the UK. It has changed its names five times and except of one case, it has always been independently owned. It has never been a bingo or snooker hall, nor even closed. The programme consists of independent and world cinema films as well as of the repertoire of old and recent classics, education events and festivals. According to a booklet on the building's history "the Phoenix, almost as old as cinema itself, reflects the history of British film and cinema." (Phoenix Cinema Booklet, p. 28)

Designed by a local architect S. Birdwood, it originally opened on 11th May 1911 as the Picturedome. The entrance was from the High Road and the natural fall of the land was utilized for the raked seating with the screen located at the front of the building. 428 seats were provided in rows of 16 with gangways on either side. There was a restaurant on the first floor above the foyer. This was a time when the film stock was highly flammable due to the high nitrate base. To avoid the fire hazard, there were some important design rules applied which regulated the gangways and appropriate exists in all halls where inflammable films were shown. The projector had to be in a substantial enclosure isolated from the audience with glass windows with shutters, which could be released from both inside and outside the enclosure if fire broke out and in permanent cinemas the enclosure had to be outside the auditorium with a separate entrance.

In 1926 the Cinema changed its owner and became the Coliseum Cinema. New seating was installed and a new entrance was opened in Fairlawn Avenue to provide better access to the rear seats. The introduction of sound films affected the residents in this area who complained to the council about the noise. A self-closing device which kept the door shut during performances was the Phoenix's response. Major alternations of 1938 were carried out by the architectural firm Howes and Jackman with internal decorations by Mollo and Egan. The auditorium was reversed with the screen moving to the opposite end of the auditorium. This involved considerable alternation to the flooring, changing the rake to be at its highest at the High Road end. New seats were provided, the number increasing to 528. The original 1910 barrel vault ceiling was retained but Art-Deco panels were placed along the side walls. The colour scheme of the auditorium was executed in bronze and gold. Strip lighting was discretely concealed behind the panels running along the walls. The front of the cinema was also transformed with a move to the sleek lines of 1930s Art-Deco architecture. The turrets and decorative plasterwork were removed to give the exterior a more 'modern' look. Glazed black tiles set against creamy plaster and a new canopy stretching across the width of the cinema were accompanied by a neon sign with the new name - Rex.

At the Rex, the Kershaw Kalee projectors were modified to accept anamorphic lenses and the ability to handle the range of film formats in common use even today. In the early 1950s the highly inflammable nitrate film stock was replaced by the much safer acetate film. The projection bob no longer had to be completely isolated from the auditorium and the window shutters were no longer required. In October 1973 the Rex was acquired by the Granada Group, the television and cinema conglomerate which moved for the first time into the world of art cinema. It inherited an extensively refurbished Rex where the floor rake had recently been increased using rubble from the demolished Express Dairy site opposite in the High Road.

In 1975 Contemporary Films, led by Charles Cooper and his wife Kitty, purchased the cinema for £64,500, changed the name to the Phoenix and introduced the logo which is still in use today.

Upon the retirement of Ch. Cooper, who wanted to sell cinema, the wide community support and real activist campaigning raised up until the Trust got involved, receiving a grant to purchase the cinema. In May 1989 the Trust enlarged the upper foyer by repositioning the stairs and creating a new entrance to the auditorium. This made room for a new coffee bar.

Today, the cinema continues a tradition of showing independent films with many special and community events. Currently, the building is undergoing the Centenary Restoration Project.

user group

There are too main groups - the Japanese group and Non-Japanese one. Adults (not suitable for children or teenagers):

Local Japanese people

Japanese living in London (or any Japanese living and working in UK)

Japanese visiting London

Mixed Westerner-Japanese couples or marriages

Japanese born in UK (from mixed or homogenous partnerships)

Spiritually oriented, searching for an opportunity to practice Zazen meditation

Families moved to London and missing their traditional Japanese teas and sweets

Local people (East Finchley and wider area of Barnet)

People interested in Japanese culture, Zen-Buddhism and meditation

Students of Japanese language with the need to practice it with native speakers (for example those studying Japanese in the Institute, right across the street from the chosen building)

Japanese Friendship Group (meeting regularly in the Local Library on the same street)

Men married or dating Japanese woman (or the other way round which is rather scarce) who would like to learn more about their partner's background

Professionals and/or mature students who need to find an appropriate way how to relief the

stress, how to chill out and relax, calm down their minds and find a balance in life

Spiritually oriented, looking for a bit of contemplation, wanting to try out Zen meditation

Elders who would like to try something different from their regular cup of black tea, something more healthier (gives more energy, nutrients and vitamin C), the authentic green tea - sencha, matcha, gyokuro etc... or other green tea products, including pastry

sketch design - plans, materials, lighting, components - why?

The building's overall design is mainly inspired by the Japanese Tea House and Tea Room Architecture, both traditional and contemporary concepts, by all arts and craft related to the Tea Ceremony - chanoyu, The Way of Tea as created and developed by such great Zen Masters as Sen no Rikyū or Kobori Enshu.

Whats is happening in the Zentre?

People enter the different space from the beginning. The door is lower, one has to crawl in, as into the traditional Tea room, which symbolizes person's humility and will to abandon everything mundane. After stepping into the sacred world of a dry Zen garden, they enjoy the view of this artistic interior landscape and prepare themselves for a meditation sessions. They have to take off their shoes off, as further on the path, they walk on a natural, soft, delicate and aromatic tatami flooring. Not only they remove footwear, the also have to put aside all electronic devices, phones, watches, i-pods, anything which may be disturbing the silence and tranquil atmosphere of the space. The metaphors of a Japanese warrior, or samurai, putting aside his weapon before a Tea ceremony starts and the time having stopped in the Tea room must be obvious from beginning.


Food and drinks, made of green tea are provided in a commercial spaces called Tea Bar and Tea Bakery. These products are food not only for body but also for a soul. They keep a guest awake, conscious and healthy. So there is a variety of green tea products in the Bar, such as Green Tea Martini, Breeze and other green tea cocktails. In the Bakery then, there are different pastries made of matcha - powdered green tea containing the most vitamin C and nutrients, as well as green tea coffee, latte, milkshakes etc. In the evening, the more social and chilled mood takes over the tranquil atmosphere of a spiritual day treatment. People chatting over glass of green tea Martini and exchange their thought on whatever they have experienced on that day.


tatami flooring/mats (feeling, explanation, origin, dimensions)

screens, free standing, partitioning and transforming the interior spaces

bamboo (naturalness, simplicity, firmness and flexibility)

bath tube, onsen, thermal water hole/cube/object (transparency, or onsen (Japanese bathing) simulation, manufacturers)


Japanese lanterns

Intimate, quit, dimmed, revealing muted tones

Interior alternations:

removing of the original walls, stairs, lifts

building a new structures, walls, staircase, lifts

alternation of the roof - partially opening (existing mechanisms, sliding panels, wings, shelters)

philosophical and aesthetic inspiration

Zen Buddhism

Zen was introduced to Japan in the early Kamakura period first by priest Eisai (founder of Rinzai Zen) and then by Dōgen (Sōtō Zen). The practice centres around meditation - dhyāna and quiet contemplation as a means of coming into contact with the Buddha-mind as one's own nature. This meditation on the nature of things and pacifying the restless cognitive process of mind is difficult way how to obtain spiritual integrity.

The Way of Tea - Chadō

This philosophical and aesthetic concept worshipping the imperfection emerged and developed only in Japan and its main constituent is a Zen Buddhist philosophy. Tea in it is more than a mere medicament helping to relief drowsiness but is a work of art and metaphor of life itself.

In Chadō the tea drinking is experiencing a spiritual truth in the tea house resembling Zen hermitage and the idea is that if a man embodies Zen in such a commonplace action as tea drinking, it would spread throughout the whole of his everyday life.

The Way of Tea goes beyond the Tea Ceremony in a sense, that it has to be present even before and after the ceremony:

"The tea ceremony which exists only in Japanese culture, is certainly an occasion on which tea is prepared, offered and drunk, but ideologically it is much more than that. The duality of the simple yet profound lies at the heart of chanoyu, or the Way of Tea, and accounts for many of the apparent contradictions and ambiguities in the way it is described and explained." (The modern japanese tea room, 9)

Chanoyu was created at the same time, as the Zen sect was being adopted by the warrior houses and others in Japan and procedures governing tea were being established by means of the sarei (rules dealing with the drinking of tea) of the Zen temples. In this sense, chanoyu emerged from the sarei of Zen." (The Development of chanoyu:before Rikyu, 14) Apart of these rules, such things as scrolls of calligraphy, paintings, and Buddhist implements used in Zen temples were taken directly into chanoyu and became its distinguishing features. (15)

The essence of the Way of Tea lies in entering the state of contemplation in which a man spontaneously handles the utensils correctly and in attaining an attitude of heart through which he grasps the Buddha nature within himself and in the whole world around him.

Tea and Zen - Cha Zen ichimi

Tea, similarly to the Zen, was brought to Japan by priests who went to T'ang China, where people drunk dancha (brick tea) which was prepared considerably differently from the method of preparation and drinking seen in chanoyu (Tea ceremony) today. Later, at the end of the 12th century, the rules of matcha (powdered tea), formulated during the Sung dynasty, were introduced to Japan by the Zen priest Eisai, who stressed the extraordinary medicinal value of this tea.

Zen teaches that one can attempt, especially by means of zazen and the kōan, to enter the realm of "nothingness (mu)" and "emptiness (kū)". In the same way, one seeks in chanoyu to enter these realms by handling various utensils and by the step-by-step process of apportioning powdered tea, pouring the hot water, and stirring it with a whisk. (Tea and Zen, 234) The tea room is a real-life setting for the important practice in the way of Zen of seeking oneness of host and guests and, at the same time, distinguishing clearly between guests and host. The host must present his own bowl with sincere feelings to his guests. (Tea and Zen, 235) Then, it does not matter, whether one makes a mistake or forgets the precise procedure of chanoyu.

The formal explicit connection between Tea and Zen lies in a execution of a tea house which should resemble Zen hermitage or simple hut.

Wabi Sabi

The term wabi matured within the aesthetic consciousness of medieval Japanese and it expresses the Japanese feeling for beauty. Zen as another powerful force in deepening and refining this aesthetics formatted the sensibilities of Tea masters in the initial stages of chanoyu.

The most sacred text of chanoyu - Nampōroku by Sen no Rikyū states: "Chanoyu of the small tea room is first of all a Buddhist spiritual practice for attaining the way. To be concerned about the quality of the dwelling in which you serve tea or the flavour of the food served with it is to emphasize the mundane. It is sufficient if the dwelling one uses does not leak water and the food served suffices to stave off hunger. This is in accordance with the teachings of the Buddha and is the essence of chanoyu. First, we fetch water and gather firewood. Then we boil the water and prepare tea. After offering some to the Buddha, we serve our guests. Finally, we serve ourselves." (The wabi aesthetic through ages, 223-224)

Wabi - simplicity in materials, poverty, earthen, natural quality, also incompleteness and imperfection, self-moderation, no self will.

sabi - rusticity, patina, surface changes, old and irregular, deep solitude, tranquillity, absence of obvious energetic yet immature beauty, the beauty of perishable, declining, yet wise, with the insight and aloneness.

Tea room/house

is the best example and representation of the Zen architecture. It derived from the Zen monastery which differs from other Buddhist sects inasmuch as it meant only to be a dwelling place for the monks. The light of the tea room is subdued, everything is sober, reserved with unobtrusive colours and absolutely clean. The other design principles are non-repetition, asymmetry, incompleteness. The dynamic nature of Zen stresses the process through which the perfection is sought rather than upon perfection itself. The repetition and uniformity is avoided in order to preserve the freshness of the imagination. That is why the various objects and utensils in a tea room should be selected that no colour, shape or design is repeated.

"If you have a living flower, a painting of flowers is not allowable. If you are using a round kettle, the water pitcher should be angular. A cup with a black glaze should not be associated with a tea-caddy of black lacquer. In placing a vase or an incense burner on the tokonoma, care should be taken not to put it in the exact centre, lest it divide the space into equal halves. The pillar of the tokonoma should be a different kind of wood from the other pillars, in order to break any suggestion of monotony in the room." (Okakura, 70)

Since Zen has a Confucianism and Taoists as a philosophical background, there is an interesting metaphor coming from the Taoist's main figure Lao 'C. It is a metaphor of a vacuum saying the the reality of a room is in the vacant space, its potentiality and the value of suggestion requiring the participation of a viewer/guest. The vacuum is all potent because it is all containing, in vacuum alone motion becomes possible.

Tea room is a symphony of art and nature - artistic yet no artificial, consciously conceived yet pure in form, refinement of the taste yet still a mere hut amid a transitory world. It is the union of :

KEI - reverence, WA - harmony, SEI - purity, and JAKU - tranquillity. The concept of kei-wa-sei-jaku underlies the principles of the strict discipline of the Zen monasteries.

The choice of the materials in a tea room demonstrates the ephemeral character of it. The natural and perishable materials are used: bamboo, wood, mud, reed, straw. Irregularity reigns and its simple non-decorative/ornamental beauty does not impose itself on the beholder, but attracts the eye and captives the heart by its non-loudness, solemnity, and perfect imperfecti0n.

other sources and examples

Zen painting - Circle, triangle and square

is the monochrome ink painting but there are actually included many colours as the ink posses five tints.

Zen painting does not pursue an elaborate detail, rather, it grasps the truth at once, then expresses it directly and immediately. The whole is first painted in one stroke - in one breath and it is out of this whole the parts then emerge.

The artistic appreciation of the Zen ink painting is transformed into the meditation. The picture is frame-less, either in physical or mental sense. The active participation of the observer is required, what the brush does not paint, he has to feel it in his heart, only then the work becomes complete.

Kare-san-sui - Dry Japanese Garden

is the most abstract form of landscape architecture and could be found mostly in Zen temples, where the monks contemplate its symbols - raked sand as the ocean, stones representing mountains, animals or gods.

Traditional and new approach:

Ryōan-ji and Mirei Shigemori


The Zen garden at Ryōan-ji Temple in Kyoto appeared around year 1500 and it is usually attributed to So-ami, famous architect, painter and garden designer. It consists of five groupings of stones (5:2:3:2:3) surrounded by raked sand and exhibiting asymmetry. They are bordered on two sides by a plain old rather low earthen wall. Symmetry never dominates in Zen landscape architecture and in this particular garden, there is not a single tree. The sparseness of the rocks, the simplicity and the naturalness of this profound space allow a viewer to sense emptiness or nothingness, but this emptiness has got a positive effect; it carries the ability of removing all the artificiality and affectation from us and our perception of the world.

It is interesting to point out here, some difference is how we can approach the stone. Isamu (1977, p. 51) states that the usual Western attitude towards the stone is such that we treat it as a material to be processed, whatever beauty it may possess, it remains to be a rough rock and we need to impose human order on it. On the other hand, the Japanese have the order which is followed by meditation and concentration of the mind; this distinct order does not seek to be static, harmonious or eternal. The beauty of this moving order is rather experiential and dynamic. The stones are never materials only.

The most remarkable feature of this garden is its changeability and interpret-ability. The most common interpretations found in Mosher (1964, p.276) are that it shows mountains poking through a layer of clouds; rocks in a river, r islands in the sea; mother tigress with her cubs fording a river; or that the rocks represent the five great Zen temples. However, generally agreed by scholars, the garden defies such concrete analyses.

Mirei Shigemori's gardens

are the main inspiration, as they represent completely almost revolutional approach to tradition of dry gardens thus contributing to the evolution of the Japanese garden design itself. Mirei Shigemori, who has a background as a painter, introduces new materials - concrete for example, and although keeps using sand, he uses it in a new colours and rakes planes in an unique fresh patterns. He is experimenting with abstract geometric elements and particularly with dot, point-like elements of which the best example is his first majr contemporary garden called Hassō no Niwa which he designed and created for Tofukuji, Zen temple in Kyoto, Japan. Shigemori plays with scaling and simplifying of these forms and he treats the garden layout as though it was a canvas. Other example is Tentrai-an temple's garden with its extremely avant-garde design, consisting only of various solid coloured concrete surfaces. The author also transcends another tradition and that is of the viewing of a karesansui. Instead of having the viewer appreciating the garden from a predetermined location, as is the case of perceiving the painting hung up on the gallery wall, and which is in his opinion a very limited experience, Shigemori lets the viewer to be a participant, a walker through his garden space.

Contemporary Tea House/Room

as the one of the Japan's most original and outstanding architectural forms, charged with a six hundred year history of philosophy, religion, art, social intercourse and Japanese-ness, is for me the most attractive inspirational design source whatsoever. The seriousness, relevancy and meaning of this kind of space for people of any era is proved by the attraction to many famous Japanese architects and designers among them I mention just a few: Tadao Ando, Arata Isozaki, Terunobu Fujimori, Hiroshi Hara, Kengo Kuma. These professionals are treating the subject in a extraordinary way, they manage to preserve the essencial values of the chashitsu even by using on the first sight incompatibile materials such as plastic, titanium, aluminium, glass, charcoal or concrete. They reinterpret the chashitsu and create a contemporary meditative spaces.