Kaomai Tea Barn – a tea shop with a touch of tobacco processing plant estate

A spindly rectangular building covered with an old roof made of zinc looks as if competing with the trees that come in various heights in a dense space of greenery, which could almost be called a forest. Although they have many similarities in appearance, the differences in materials can be spotted if you look carefully. Some are made of woven wood with fermented plaster. Some are made entirely of bricks or blocks of concrete. Each house is lined up on a minor road, contributing to the reminiscent atmosphere of ‘Kaomai Estate 1955’, an eco-design project that transformed an old tobacco processing plant estate into a community space suitable for the newer generation.

And today, we will take everyone along with us on our journey to relax and rewind while sipping a cup of fragrant tea at this project’s newly opened tea shop, called ‘Kaomai Tea Barn’. We’ll also learn more about this place’s origin from Trice – Pacharapan Ratananakorn, one of the founders of PAVA architects who designed the project.

The tobacco processing plant estate that shifted over time

Speaking of origin, we would have to go back to the beginning when it all began. Initially, this area has shifted and transformed for 3 generations already. At first, this place started solely as a tobacco processing plant estate. After the second generation, areas for planting and farming gradually arose along with the tobacco processing plant estate. However, when the popularity of tobacco leaves declined, the tobacco drying barn permanently closed, which led to the renovation of ‘Kaomai Lanna’ a resort that focuses on bringing out the beauty of ivy to blend in the architecture with nature seamlessly. When it was passed on to the current generation, the project owner intends to return this area to the community, just like it was in the past. Thus, the creation of the ‘Kaomai Estate 1955’ project is a community space situated amid nature. This space includes a museum, a coffee shop, an Amphitheater, an outdoor fairground, and a newly opened tea shop.

“PAVA has been looking after this project for a long time. We participated in making plans and carrying out the Master plan with the owner and discussed about the development directions of this area. When the owner suggested an idea that we make a museum, we could clearly saw the value and the potential of this whole area. We didn’t want to limit the museum space to be just in a certain building and that’s how we got the inspiration for creating the site as a museum.” – Trice recalled the initial stage of the project.

In addition to the old building, another highlight of this place is the ‘big tree’ that the owner takes good care of. As a result, the trees here are lush and fertile, which is not common these days. Therefore, architects pointed out the great importance of preserving history and nature. Whether there will be any modifications or additions to its functionality in the future or not, the value of these aspects must remain.

When designing the Master plan, the architect team analyzed the area in detail. There was an inspection of the condition of every building to see which could be preserved and which could be renovated to improve their functionality. In terms of nature, there was a collaboration with the arborist team and the arborist consultants to monitor the trees’ health and come up with solutions to maintain them in a healthy condition even after people visited the area.

Leading to a tea shop design with a hint of its origin

For the project to drive deeper, there must be additional space that can attract people to come and learn the Sense of Place of Kaomai. Which ‘Kaomai Tea Barn’ is one of the jigsaw puzzles that will complete our overall plan even more. 

“The design concept is that we want to preserve the authentic value of the tobacco processing plant estate. When we first entered the building and looked up, we saw dim lights that shines down from the light channel embedded high up on the towering building. We were really impressed with what we saw and so we wanted to preserve those feeling when designing the tea barn.”

The firm intention of the architects is to hold the unique value of the Sense of Place of this tobacco processing plant estate. The charm of the mass of the 6×6 gable roof tobacco drying barn remained almost the same, whether it’s the volume, height, brick wall, galvanized door and roof, reinforced concrete structure, wooden roof structure or wooden railing socket. All the structures seen are from a construction technique known as reconstruction, which is a new creation that returns the building to its previous state since the building was dilapidated over time, in contrast to the Kaomai Museum Barns, which remained in a complete condition. 

Most importantly, the original building was designed to support the weight of the tobacco drying sticks, and the tobacco leaves only. The structure of the reinforced concrete columns was small and thin, and the walls couldn’t withhold much. With the modification to support a more significant number of users, new foundations had to be installed and reinforced with steel structure internally to support the entire weight. At the same time, they tried to keep the original structure and the original size.

Newer perspectives of the same space

‘Sunken Space’ is a crucial element in creating a deeper dimension of space, allowing the emphasization of volume and the height of the tobacco processing barn, making the building appear even taller. The Sunken Space also connects the space from Kaomai Avenue, where the scenery of the barn can be seen, all the way to the Amphitheater, contributing to both accessibility and nature.

After taking a dip with a sip of tea at the Sunken seat outside, we will see the changing view of nature all around us, which was created with the intention of the architects’ design of concrete retaining walls that can be used as seating to allowing visitors a closer distance with the soil level than usual which made them feel closer to nature to emphasize the humility of coexistence with nature.

Looking back at the building, we can see that the design of the interior space is minimalistic. On the first floor, there was only a small group of tables and chairs paired with a wall bench, counter, and a tea jar shelf behind it. But with this simplicity, there are many hidden details. For example, the counter is designed as a tea brewing space. There is a space to pour tea in the middle that connects to the spout under the counter below, which allows us to sit and sip tea while deliberately watching the tea brewing process from the very first step. The gloss of the countertop material also reflects the atmosphere inside the tobacco dring barn and the nature around it.

As you go up to the mezzanine floor, you’ll find a tea table which creates a calmer and more private atmosphere than the ground floor. Although the tea shop space is not very spacious, the architect intended to design different corners of tea spaces with different atmosphere.

Brick – the untouched beauty of the previous era

‘Bricks’ are the indigenous materials of this tobacco processing plant estate. Thus, the architect chose to keep all the original materials. As a result, these bricks don’t only reflect the history of the second-generation tobacco processing plant estate but also reflect the dedication of the architects and craftsmen who worked together to preserve the values of the architecture’s authenticity. 

“Before we demolished the building, the team went and carefully measured every single dimension to see how many bricks there are in a wall set and the size of the masonry. After that, artisans must gradually cracked down the brick wall into separated sets and marked them in order to reconstruct them as original. The leftover bricks from the lower wall that were removed were used to make the counter bases we see.” – Trice described the process of preserving the original brick materials.

Steel – the representation of the new age materials

From the owner’s request, they wanted this area to be able to accommodate a large number of people. Therefore, the architect thought ‘Steel’ would make suitable material for this area since steel is durable, strong, and can withstand earthquakes. At the same time, it doesn’t look bulky and will not overshadow the value of the building’s authenticity. They are also easy to be taken care of, which makes them the second-most important material after bricks.

In addition to the structure, steel is also implemented within the design itself as an additional element. For example, the decking and the railings of the second-floor terrace, which serves as the upstairs event space and the roof for the lower Sunken seats, are all made of steel. With the steel floor’s thinness, the building’s mass shape remained intact. It also highlights the contrast between brick and glass more distinctively. As for the railing, the architect designed a small top bar integrated into the design and created a perfect atmosphere for a tea-drinking space with a joyful breeze combined with sunlight that shines through the gaps in the tree’s canopy.

Wood – a material that reflects local values

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the woodwork here is the only one in the world. The benches, tables, and chairs are all handcrafted by local craftsmen. Most of the wood used is old wood found within the project. Therefore, we can see that some pieces of furniture are limited in size, which the architect designed. We saw that using locally available materials was one of the charms of this project. Because the processing plant was built with materials that were easy to find in each generation, we can see that although the buildings are similar in shape, the materials used in some buildings may not be the same.

Glass – a material that reflects the story of space

The architects said that the process of tobacco leaves processing must be under a well-controlled heat inside the plant. Therefore, the original door of the tobacco processing plant estate only contained a small galvanized door. When there is the need to adjust the functionality of the buildings to suit the tea shop, we chose to open part of the lower wall to increase the size of the entrance area, which will also embrace the natural light by using the complete glass material to connect the atmosphere between inside and outside of the buildings including being able to see through to the other side. Interestingly, the newly added glass panel accentuates the old galvanized door to make it stand out even more.

And if looking at the side of the building, we will find small light openings lined up on the wall, which was the original hanging slot of tobacco drying sticks that has been enlarged to allow the space to be visible from the outside while maintaining its authenticity. The architect designed two sizes of the openings, with the lower one being more extensive than the upper one, which is still similar in size to the original design.

A light design that takes us back in time.

The yellowish light emanating from the openings contrasted with the twilight sky was another charm of this tobacco processing plant estate that cannot be seen elsewhere in the present time. The architect team restored this atmosphere in the form of the ‘Lighting Design’ of Kaomai Tea Barn for everyone to experience. 

“In the past, the area of Kaomai was quite dark, but when lighting came, it made the atmosphere more welcoming, which we were inspired by the lighting from the tobacco drying barn. And most importantly, we tried to hide the lamp itself to give the buildings the illusion of its glow. We use this lighting design to light up the brick walls, highlighting the brick walls’ dimensions.”

According to the architect, we can see that most of the light bulbs are hidden under countertops, benches, shelves and walls, with only the wooden lamps hanging from the second floor being displayed. The architect was inspired by the sawmill wood used to support the drying sticks, which the architect redesigned by using similar-sized wood and hiding the lights as a downlight for the seating area above.

In addition to the design mentioned, there are also various details that the architect intended to do when designing this project. Whether it’s the adjustment of the roof to become a two-layer roof with insulation to reduce the amount of heat entering the building, the design of the ramp and hidden drainage gutter and water tanks in the Sunken space or the concrete bridge connecting the cafes, the tea barn and the next tobacco drying barn together that also serves as storage for the system at the same time such as cable ducts and air conditioning ducts.

Impressions and lessons from the tobacco processing plant estate

What’s your impression in designing this Kaomai Tea Barn?

“We are impressed with the end result that still maintained its authenticity. Even if it’s reconstructed, but at the beginning, we already had the intention to preserve it for the future generations to learn about . At the same time, we didn’t want to lessen its value with ages as we want the new generation to be able to feel and learn from it. The owner also intended for this area to provide more job opportunities for people in the community as well. For example, tea, rice, flowers and plants all harvested locally. The craftsmanship in the design came from local craftsmen. We see it as another way to help revive the community as a whole.”

Can you elaborate on the ‘conserving the value of this place’ in the perspective of PAVA architects?

“Of course, we would like to conserve as much as we can, and we feel that this timeless beauty is something that cannot be replaced. But still, we didn’t try to limit any necessary development. The applications that meet today’s needs are still crucial, and it’s like we’re also accepting the ever-changing social dynamics. Most importantly, we believe that one of the best way to learn history is to witness historical objects with our eyes.”

Kaomai Tea Barn is another example of design work created from the vision and understanding of the value of space shared by owners, architects, craftsmen, and the team. To wholly passed on the timeless beauty from one generation to the next despite the introduction of newer materials in which the architects delicately picked the material to remain as humble as possible.

Location: Kaomai Estate 1955 
Built Area: 210 square meters
Client: Kaomai Estate 1955
Architects Firm: PAVA architects 
Lead Architects: Varat Limwibul and Pacharapan Ratananakorn
Interior Architect: Pacharapan Ratananakorn
Landscape Architect: Varat Limwibul
Lighting Design Consultant: Vasapol Teravanapanth
Construction Consultant: Nil Khamaoy and Kaomai team
Photo Credit: Spaceshift Studio

Nara Aunjai

Nara Aunjai