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Oare Pavilion


After Pei retired from his firm of four decades in 1990, he determined to accept only small commissions of personal interest. Oare Pavilion is one such project. At 3,110 square feet, it is one of his smallest buildings, although filled with large personal connections, not least the client’s strong ties with China. Henry Keswick was chairman of Jardine Matheson, a multinational conglomerate in Hong Kong that was among the original hongs, or trading houses, dating back to imperial rule. The Keswick and Pei families knew each other for more than seventy years, the traders having banked with Tsuyee Pei, I.M.’s father. Henry Keswick and his wife Tessa both knew and liked the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong, but it was Tessa who, on a visit to Miho Museum, became convinced that Pei was the right architect to build on their 96-acre Georgian estate, some 80 miles outside London. The Keswicks wanted to enrich their land with a peaceful retreat for light refreshment, reading, and enjoying nature, a transcendent, spiritually uplifting space to complement nearby woods commemorating family members who had passed.

The tea pavilion, or garden folly, had a long history in England. With the expansion of the British empire in the 1700s, wealthy landowners built small picturesque structures to add interest to their gardens, romantically evoking ancient ruins or exotic lands, like little-known China. In yet another storied connection, it was Jardine Matheson that helped create England’s tea culture with the first private shiploads of tea from China in 1834.



Instead of “folly,” Pei preferred the French term, folie, as indeed the focal siting of Oare Pavilion is more directly related to geometric French gardens like Versailles than to their more naturalistic counterparts in England or China. The freestanding hexagonal structure, resolutely modern, stands on axis with historic Oare House some 400 yards away. It is flanked by, and was designed in scale with, great allées of trees on either side. Raised above an architectural concrete base for optimum viewing and reached by a superbly detailed flight of stairs, the interior is one large room (43 feet across) with 360-degree panoramas of the landscape – and of the sheep who keep the grass short. Wood-slat sunscreens, a great diamond-shaped window cut from the front door, and the pavilion’s overall silhouette quietly recall Miho and the folded planes of traditional Japanese farmhouses.

With unique distinction in 2005, the Georgian Group overseeing the preservation of England’s 18th-century architecture, conferred on Oare Pavilion one of its first awards for a new building in a Georgian context. It is I.M. Pei’s only building in the U.K. (executed with his friend and favorite engineer, Leslie Robertson).

Design Team: I.M. Pei, Design Principal; Jennifer Adler, Senior Designer
I.M. Pei, Architect