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Reed Watts completes ‘pergola’ café for V&A

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The project is the third – and largest – at the V&A for the emerging practice, which previously completed two entrance spaces for the museum

Tasked with replacing a café in the John Madejski Garden that was no longer fit for purpose, Reed Watts used the idea of a traditional garden pergola as a starting point, with a structure designed to sit lightly within the garden without interrupting views of the courtyard itself.

Visible ‘in the round’ from within the museum as well as the garden, the new counter needed to be accessible from all directions. To achieve this a dual-fronted counter has been provided, giving more space for display and sales than was previously possible. The steel frame has been designed to be flexible to the museum’s needs and can be adjusted and entirely removed for events and displays.

V A Garden Cafe by Reed Watts Architects Simon Kennedy 10

V&A Garden Café by Reed Watts Architects

Around the base of the café runs a series of 50 bespoke, green enamel panels, each handmade by specialist manufacturer AJ Wells using a mix of three shades of green vitreous enamel. An aluminium coil mesh curtain sits above the enamel and is drawn across the counter at night when the café is closed. This dark palette was chosen to sit within the myriad textures of the museum’s outdoor spaces, such as its traditional brickwork, range of temporary installations and the garden’s elliptical pool.

The project went from conception to construction in less than four months (with design taking three months and construction just over two weeks), and the majority of the café’s elements were fabricated offsite for installation overnight. Careful planning ensured that works to existing services and structure were reduced and that new elements were designed to be safely carried through the museum without the need for cranes or complex lifting equipment.

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V&A Garden Café by Reed Watts Architects

Architect’s view

We wanted to do more with this structure than just deliver a new café and seating area. Our design creates a framework that accommodates not only the café counter and seating, but that can also be appropriated for events and for temporary display. The challenge came in achieving this without diminishing the beauty or tranquillity of the existing space. We’re delighted with how the completed project achieves this, all the more so given the tight timetable and the sophisticated demands of the operational brief.

Delivering the café structure, from conception to completion in just four months, was an immense challenge. While creativity, careful planning and co-ordination made the project possible, the realisation and ultimately the success of the project, required good teamwork to deliver a project of lasting quality.

Matt Watts, director, Reed Watts Architects  

Project data

Start on site May 2018
Completion May 2018
Contract duration 3 weeks
Cafe floor area 33m²
Pavilion floor area 125m²
Form of procurement Traditional (JCT Intermediate)
Architect Reed Watts
Client Benugo Limited
Project manager/QS Morgan Carr
Structural engineer Price & Myers
Principal designer Reed Watts
Main contractor S&G Limited
Steelwork contractor Koyda Limited
Catering contractor lntracat Limited
Enamel panels AJ Wells
Coil mesh curtain Edge Interiors 
Canvas roof Marina Covers 

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