Architecture - Terunobu Fujimori

Maverick Japanese architect Terunobu Fujimori outlines his approach to architecture and shows us his magical teahouse

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Video Transcript

The recurring theme which I play with in my work is the relationship with the natural world and what human beings have created. I go about this by using natural materials, such as trees and soil in the building of my homes and also by using plants within the buildings.

The focus of my work relates back to architecture before civilisation. How people originally lived, in their natural environment, which is a key subject of my architectural works. I’ve visited Stonehenge many times and other Neolithic sites, walking around and looking at them.

I want to create a space that we can enjoy away from our everyday lives, a space with a small fire where people can enjoy tea.

There are seven architects taking part in this project, I know just one of them, the Japanese architect Fujimoto. I know Fujimoto very well. I’m really looking forward to seeing the works by the other five.

What was really exciting for us was to be able to position Fujimori’s structure in direct dialogue with these key objects from the Medieval & Renaissance collections, these full size architectural fragments, especially the Morlaix staircase behind me. These are examples of architecture from a much older, longer tradition of building. In describing these buildings he says that his architecture should never resemble buildings after the Bronze Age. Fujimori’s very interested in this relationship with other traditional building techniques and the idea of the spiritual nature of wood, for example, so he loves being in this space for that reason.

A key visual element is this charring and that’s something that’s at the heart of a lot of Fujimori’s work. He feels that the charring process gives an intrinsic unity and integrity to the structure. It waterproofs it. It protects the structure from bugs and pests. This process of charring and burning extends the lifetime of the structure for sixty or seventy years.

I think for me the most satisfying aspect of the project has been watching Fujimori’s generosity in terms of involving other people in the construction of this building. One of the key stories for this structure is the collaboration with the Royal College of Art students. The architecture students have been involved with the plastering finish on the interior of the building, the general assembly of the various panels for the structure. The ladder is entirely a design from the Royal College of Art students and we ran an informal competition with the ceramic students for the tea set that actually sits inside the structure.

The structure will be fully accessible for visitors, so you have a little stool here where people can sit and take their shoes off and then six people will go up at any one time and it’s a space for intimate conversation, discussion and debate, so you could come with a group of friends or just come for a random hook up with some strangers in the V&A.


The V&A staged a contemporary architecture exhibition which opened on 15th June 2010, exploring the power of small spaces. From a shortlist of nineteen, seven international architects were selected to design structures which explore notions of refuge and retreat. These buildings which examine themes such as play, work, performance and study will be built at full-scale in various spaces within the V&A. 

The V&A has commissioned seven short films which look at  the architects and their projects. These combine filmed interviews with the architects about their design philosophy and their retreat concept for the V&A with self-shot video footage.


Terunobu Fujimori has built some of Japan's most distinctive buildings over the past 20 years. His extraordinary work draws on a highly personal vision of ancient Japanese architecture.