Romantic new cafe garden and elegant architecture in London’s Chiswick Park?

Chiswick Park gets a romantic new garden cafe

Chiswick Park gets a romantic new garden cafe!

I have always had a soft spot for Chiswick House and Park: my Mum used to play there; it is a key project in William Kent’s design progress; it is the only park or garden in the world where a uniformed official has told me that ‘you can ride your bicycle here if you want to’. So it was a pleasure to find that the current refurbishment of the park by English Heritage and the Chiswick House and Gardens Trust includes what may have been intended as a romantic new ‘Garden of the Mind’. The gravel was dredged from the North Sea. The bitumen binder was sourced far beneath the region in which the world’s first gardener worked. The garden furniture comes from far-away China. The manhole covers are tastefully handled. The architecture reminds me of Mies’ Barcelona Pavilion. We must congratulate the dashing young boss of English Heritage (Simon Thurley) and wonder if his own fair hand was behind this garden. Conveniently, it has good toilets and is within spitting distance for visitors to Lord Burlington’s Chiswick Villa. But, for me, the Garden of the Mind is nothing but a sea of bitmac (though a layer of gravel has been applied since the photo was taken). Chiswick Park is a key project in the architecture and landscape architecture of the eighteenth century world. Its sparkling new cafe deserves a sparkling new cafe garden – and Mies showed the way at Barcelona. English Heritage once ran a highly unsuccessful Contemporary Heritage Gardens project, because it was applied on inappropriate sites. The cafe in Chiswick Park could still be a great site for a great project. [See note on heritage garden weddings]

6 thoughts on “Romantic new cafe garden and elegant architecture in London’s Chiswick Park?

  1. Thomas Mickey

    Is it true that Chiswick is the earliest example of English landscape tradition? at least that is what I have read. To say that English landscape began in the 18th century seems too simple, too narrow, and does not speak to the centuries before. Maybe the term ‘modern’ needs to be added. So Kent at Chiswick initiates modern English landscape.

  2. Tom Turner Post author

    In one sense, it is absolutely correct that the ‘English’ landscape tradition has very ancient roots. They reach back to Italy, to Ancient Greece and to the roots of Indo-European culture. But in another sense, Chiswick does represent a very important departure. It is a stage in the break-up of the Baroque Age, philosophically, artistically, politically and in other ways. An interesting aspect of the new cafe, by Caruso St John, is that it can be seen as a stylised Grecian temple. But temples were homes for gods believed to live in sacred landscapes – not in carpark type spaces. Their context was of the greatest importance, as it was for Chiswick House in Chiswick Park. There is a great need for modern buildings to have good relations with their contexts and Chiswick would be a great place to develop the relationship.
    [Re the siting of Greek temples, Malpas writes: ‘The Greek temple, as Scully presents it, is not merely a building constructed for the practical purpose of providing a site for certain religious activities. Instead, the temple brings the gods into their proper place, in a way that locates them as separate from human beings, and yet also in the vicinity of human beings, and at the same time, brings thet landscape – earth, sea, and sky – into view in relation to the god, and so also in relation to human beings themselves. The temple brings into view a ‘sacred’ landscape, which is also a meaningful landscape, and it does so through the way in which it works in relation to the landscape in which it is situated – through the way it works to ‘enhance, develop, complement, and sometimes even to contradict’ that landscape’. (J. E. Malpas Heidegger’s topology: being, place, world 2006 p.198)]

  3. Tom Turner Post author

    Dairmuid Gavin would not be my first choice of garden designer for Chiswick! He has an industrial design approach to gardens, forgetting that gardens, like women, have souls. But whimsy would be an appropriate quality and one can think of William Kent having a, very English, whimsical approach to matters of the spirit. Rousham is Kent’s best surviving project and since it is difficult to know whether he was laughing or serious when doing the design one can conclude the answer was ‘both’.

  4. melanie nelson

    I visited the revamped park and gardens last weekend and as a dog owner having visited many of west londons parks and walks I think its fabulous with the wild bits which the dog loves but particularly the cafe which is understated good well detailed architecture which sits well with the original house. I believe there are some issues with the lack of air conditioning but it is well planned with plenty space for visitors and what public architecture should look like.


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