Description of Chiswick House Café
The new café is part of the regeneration of the life of the Gardens, and has been designed as a meeting place, a kind of social hub for the park. It stands close to Chiswick House, where Burlington’s Jacobean house and stables were once located, and its formal alignment with the house reinforces the public atmosphere of this part of the park, in contrast with the more natural and intimate atmosphere of the surrounding gardens. The arcaded elevations and wide terrace of the cafe forms a belvedere; a special place to gather, to enjoy the scenery and look out for your friends. The lawns around the café and the new adjacent playground provide outdoor playspace for more energetic members of the family, while others can enjoy sitting out in the sun with their tea and cake. .
Chiswick House and its gardens, as well as being one of London’s loveliest parks, were the site of very important artistic innovations in architecture and landscape design. To make a new building here is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The design is consciously more elegant and classical than most park cafés, which are more usually rustic, informal or housed in converted out-buildings. The park café as a type is unusual, in that it needs to work as a comfortable interior in winter, and as an outdoor space in summer. In this case, an arcade provides a space between the inside and the outside, giving some shelter in cooler weather, and a shaded spot in summer. The deep shadow held within the arcaded shape gives the building a sculptural presence. The atmosphere it creates responds to the picturesque grandeur of Burlington and Kent’s vision, with its references to the ruins, the shapely trees and the vistas in the Campagna around ancient Rome.
The project has involved careful consideration of the site of the building, and its effect on the parkland around it. There was a smaller café from the 60s here before, which stood further to the south and was more isolated from the gardens around by dense overgrown woodland. Trees have been removed and the area feels more connected to the rest of the park. The new café with its southern aspect can now be seen from a distance as you approach it, between the rounded shapes of mature chestnut and willow trees.
At the centre of the café is a large glazed room, which seats up to 80 people. The wide aspect from here includes newly opened-up views back to the portico of the House. A much larger number of people can also sit outside, on the forecourt and within the arcade. The wide piers of the arcade chase each other around the perimeter of the plan, to give a slightly labyrinthine effect that encloses the café interior. The structure of the café is exposed white concrete, whose thermal mass is used with a natural ventilation system to keep the interior cool in summer. The perimeter piers are made of stacked blocks of Roachbed Portland stone. Its wild fossils and deep cavities are miniature versions of the primitive rockwork in the grottos that were popular in 18th century English gardens.
The scale of the arcade and its smooth masonry finishes refer to more recent Italian architectures. In particular, the arcades of 19th century Turin that are beautiful, cool places to take your lunch in summer, and Milanese cafes from the 1950s, where material luxury, and a sophistication in how masonry and metal are put together, make elegant places to sit and have a coffee.
Peter St John, Caruso St John Architects