Text description provided by the architects. Reed Watts Architects have recently completed their third and largest project at the V&A, a new café and pergola structure in the John Madejski Garden. Going from conception to completion in less than four months, the elegant steel structure defines a new space for seating in the museum and provides a dual-fronted café counter for Benugo, the museum’s café operator. The V&A in South Kensington hosts over 4m visitors every year and its main café enjoys an outstanding reputation as one of the most beautiful in London. The brief for Reed Watts was to deliver a café in the Madejski Garden that would be met with a similar reception, replacing an existing structure that was no longer fit for purpose.
Inspired by the traditional garden pergola and taking the rhythm of the existing building as a starting point, the structure was designed so that it would 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 had to look attractive and accessible from all directions. To achieve this, Reed Watts proposed a dual-fronted counter that provides more space for display and sales than was previously possible, improving efficiency for customers and sales for the client.
The steel frame has been designed to be flexible to the museum’s needs and can be adjusted and entirely removed for future events and displays. A series of bespoke, green enamel panels run around the base of the café. Each of the 50 handmade panels by specialist manufacturer AJ Wells is individually crafted using a mix of three shades of green vitreous enamel. An aluminum coil mesh curtain sits above the enamel and is drawn across the counter at night when the cafe is closed. This rich, dark palette was chosen to sit within the myriad textures of the museum’s outdoor spaces, complementing the museum’s traditional brickwork, it’s range of temporary installations and the garden’s elliptical pool.
Designed in 3 months and built in just over 2 weeks, the project represents a successful collaboration between client, designers, and suppliers. To deliver the project on time and with minimal disruption to the museum, the majority of the café’s elements were fabricated off-site 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