Kaomai Tea Barn: A Blend of Heritage and Contemporary Design

March 11, 2024



Albert Aycardo

The Kaomi Tea Barn is an award-winning heritage project that revitalizes an old tobacco processing plant into a tea house. PAVA Architects breathed new life into the older structure while still retaining its historic and natural elements. The 2018 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation recognized this project. Adaptive reuse principles creates a unique tea house along the Kaomai Estate 1995 in Chiang Mai. 

Conserving Heritage Through Adaptive Reuse

The Koamai Estate 1955 is a redeveloped property that converted fifty tobacco drying plants into a cultural resort and hotel. Each building is treated as a heritage structure that is complemented by a rich biodiversity of fauna and flora. 

A framework of “Historical and Ecological Tourism” serves as a north star in an effort to preserve the built and natural aspects of the area. With that, the Kaomai Tea Barn serves as a measure of local inclusivity and social sustainability through this cultural delicacy. The Koami Tea Barn acts as an essential node that connects multiple buildings throughout the grounds. Its design allows for an easier traversal, whether it be vertically or horizontally. This bridges together the main road, the Amphitheater, and Kaomai Cafe.

As such, the structure allows its visitors to better appreciate the local produce, the historical background, and the natural surroundings. The reconstruction of the tobacco building, which was deteriorating at the time, involved numerous heritage conservation techniques. The objective was to keep intact the industrial character of the old building while introducing a more modern aesthetic. 

The architects documented any existing materials that can be used for reconstruction. A study of the form factor and the measurements of the spaces further aligned with maintaining the original structure. Additionally, they brought  the structure to the present by subscribing to contemporary  standards of construction, whether it be structural or functionality wise. Just like tea, what resulted is a unique blend of architectural components that forms this prized tea barn. 

Celebrating Culture and Nature

The most striking feature of the Kaomai Tea Barn’s design is the brick cladding that forms the entirety of its exteriors. The running bond pattern, which uses uniform sized bricks, is broken through with exposed concrete beams that adds a touch of modernity to the facade’s character. 

The building’s melds into the sloping landscape while providing an easier means of traversal. Within the original volume, a  sunken part of the tea house offers a unique placement into the landscape.  Visibility and exposure to nature is provided through a comprehensive glazing system. A composition of picture windows, clerestory windows, and glass doors provides ample amount of natural light and ventilation.

Lighting design plays a crucial role in highlighting key parts of any space. The designers integrated linear accent lighting to complement refined downlights that set the right mood for drinking tea. The building shines at night as openings form a lantern-like silhouette that illuminates the forest environment. 

The Kaomai Tea Barn demonstrates how a deteriorating building can be uplifted into a successful establishment. A focus on how the context, whether tangible and intangible, can strengthen the building’s performance from a social, economic, and environmental perspective. 

Related Read: Preserving the Memory of Dr. Pio Valenzuela and His Bahay na Bato

Photo credit: Spaceshift Studios

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