The Royal Fine Art Commission has slammed a plan by one of its own commissioners, Sir Michael Hopkins, to build a cake house it considers 'wholly unsuited' to the proposed site in St James's Park, London.
The £1.6 million 'environmentally friendly' scheme, which the practice unveiled last week, was branded 'typically elegant' by arts minister Mark Fisher and is intended to replace an existing circular building which the rfac said fits into the landscape as a folly or surprise. Hopkins' scheme attempts to enhance the landscape by 'following more closely Nash's original landscape intentions' through rolling over the building a gently curved green roof, planted with ground cover. It also aims to minimise the presence of the new building, give back 500m2 of the present site to parkland and include an open cafe terrace and enclosed restaurant overlooking the lake.
But commission chairman Lord St John of Fawsley wrote to Hopkins last week, setting out the rfac's many concerns about the project, the most important of which is its size. Fawsley is concerned that the scheme would 'undoubtedly threaten' a 'beautiful' circle of plane trees by interfering with their roots. He argues that pavilions such as the current Cake House are needed because of the rus in urbe nature of the Grade I-listed park, and says he is 'unhappy' about the visibility of the building, especially the walkway and balustrade. Other concerns touch on the visual impact of the main elevation on key views such as that from the path parallel to Horse Guards Road, the 'least satisfactory' short elevation facing the Mall, the strategy for ventilation outlets in the new mound undermining the proposed natural landscape effect, and servicing.
A report by Hopkins on the existing, leaky 1970 building - built by Marsham Towers architect Eric Bedford - lists a series of 'insurmountable functional and structural issues' such as a poorly defined outdoor seating area and structural, constructional, service issues. The Royal Parks Agency said that 'landscape experts' had branded the old building 'too assertive' for its purpose and that the caterers had complained of being too hot in summer and too cold in winter.