Kaomai Museums and Tea Barn Chiang Mai, Thailand PAVA architects

02 Feb 2024

World Architecture Festival 2023 (WAF) winner of the Creative Re-use category, Completed Building

Photo credit: Spaceshift Studio

PAVA architects introduced Kaomai Museums and Tea Barn, which is an adaptive-reused project of a sixty-eight-year-old tobacco processing plant estate in Chiang Mai, Thailand owned by Kaomai Estate in 1955. The project revitalizes the overlooked industrial typology of the once glorious community’s socioeconomic centre. Inserting the new contemporary uses into the old barns resurrects this local centre and conserving the architectural and ecological heritage creates an oasis in urban development. The architect designed the masterplan and the symbiosis framework to balance the co-existence between the old tobacco drying barns, mature trees, and new uses to pass on and sustain the community legacy economically, ecologically, and respectfully.

Kaomai Museums and Tea Barn are adapted for new educational, recreational, and commercial programs, and the barn cluster was transformed by subtle design intervention strategies that maintain the barn's values and authenticity.

The first Museum was preserved by repairing and reinstalling original elements; brick surfaces, reinforced concrete structures, gable roofs, voids, furnaces, tobacco hanging sticks, etc. The second Kaomai Museum was inserted by a new offset foundation and steel structure, strengthening the existing barn and flexible for an extension. Adding the steel timeline panel serves as an introduction to the estate. The shady existing big trees were preserved by adopted arboriculture techniques to maintain the co-existence between them and the barns. Also, the informative signs in front of the barns exhibit real evidence of time.

For the Tea Barn, the dilapidated barn was remodelled with reused bricks and a minimum profile of steel insertion, serving for public use and shading. The new sunken space and opened glass walls welcome the horizontal connection to the surrounding programs and close-to-nature experience while highlighting the vertical immersive tea-drinking ambience. A retaining wall and gravel floor for water management were added, MEP work under the concrete bridge was hidden, the new granite top counter for the heritage trace’s reflection and tea serving ceremony was finished, and wood for furniture was reclaimed in the design insertion for the new use. Hidden glow-in-the-dark lighting designs are reminiscent of traditional drying barns. The Tea Barn introduces a new commercial program to sustain the estate.


The project embraces local inclusion, with local artisans and former workers invited to provide the firm with valuable historical information and to share original construction methods and techniques for the barn conversion. As in the past, available local materials were used for all of the barn's conservation and adaptation. Moreover, local recruitment draws local people back to the community. Kaomai Museums and Tea Barn respectfully maintain the spirit of place and pass it on to the next generations with this subtle design intervention and adaptation framework.