(Sweet) Tea House: Temple Exercises

  • 2009 
  • Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

The [Sweet] Tea House was a collaboration between artist Theaster Gates, Nora Wendl, Jose Gamez, and students of UNC Charlotte School of Architecture, realized through a course, “Temple Exercises,” co-taught by Wendl and Associate Professor Jose Gamez at UNC Charlotte.

Temples are architectures built for mediation and meditation. For artist Theaster Gates, abandoned properties on the South side of Chicago can be transformed from dilapidated structures into ‘temples’ through a creative and strategic form of preservation. These efforts at preserving the architectural artifact operate alongside the situational structure of cultural events planned within them, such as dinners, talks, and parties, that invite participatory community interaction to counter the effects of isolation and fear that are the result of generations of racist urban planning. Through the mediation of architectural and relational interventions into a systemically under-served neighborhood, that which was ‘cast off’ becomes desired again—socially, physically and economically.

Rather than engaging an existing urban environment, this course sought to design two autonomous and nomadic ‘temples,’ each of which would be located in a gallery or museum environment and sustain the mediation and meditation of a transient population: art viewers in the American South. To this end, we collaboratively designed and built a Japanese tea house in the language of Southern vernacular, an architectural act that mediated one culture through another. Entering through a burlap corridor, a visitor came upon jars of sweet tea that formed a slowly disintegrating wall, turning the corner to enter the interior of the space, which was finished with wood pallette floors, gravel infill, and an ice bucket and scented by a quilted ‘Shoji’ screen comprised of a 3,000 tea bags.