A Significant Addition to a Public Place: The Cadogan Café Competition, London

by Stanley Collyer

nex 3 view of duke of york square from the east
Winning entry by NEX (Illustration: NEX)

This place is missing something—probably a subliminal thought of many Londoners who frequented the Duke of York Square area in London, near the entrance to the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea. The locals also decided the site needed a visual lift—but what kind? Settling on a café as the answer would always seems to meet at least one requirement: You can pick up a coffee on the way to work, or it can serve as a casual meeting place. In any case, it is not to be ignored.

In selecting an architect for the project, a normal client might just go out and pick any firm for the job. But this client was different. The architect selection process was to take place via a competition. According to the competition brief: “The Cadogan Estate is not seeking the already well-established architect, rather it is keen to identify and support emerging talent and, in doing so, act as a client patron in the classic sense. It is looking for a team with a fascination for innovative construction techniques and logistics, an interest in the art of place-making and an eye to keeping disruption to a minimum.” Still, although the RfQ process was open, the competition itself was to be preceded by a short-listing process, whereby 5-7 firms were to be chosen for the next stage.

The final short list ended up with six firms, NEX, Architecture 00, Carmody Groarke, Duggan Morris Architects, Pernilla Ohrstedt & Sarah Price Landscapes, and TaylorSnell. The process was administered by Malcolm Reading Consultants, a firm which has had broad experience in running design competitions in the U.K.

nex 2 view of cafe interior from west side
nex model c malcolm reading consultants 1 nex model c malcolm reading consultants 2 nex 1 site plan
Winning entry by NEX (Illustrations: NEX – click to enlarge)

In the end, NEX prevailed over the other competitors, proposing an “organic coiled form with a roof terrace and incorporating a glass wall that rises and falls depending on the weather. The jury thought that it would intrigue passers-by and become a mini-landmark on the King’s Road.

In a similar vein, the scheme by Carmody Groarke may have come closest to giving the winner some competition. It also was quite expressive, although not in the compact, free-standing, here-I-am manner of the winner. The other finalists were somewhat predictable, each in his/her own way. Architecture 00 proposed a rectangular box that spoke all about function, but obviously lacking in poetic aura. The entry by Duggan Morris looked rather cumbersome for the site, too large at the edges so as to even present a visible obstacle to passers-by. The imprint of a landscape architect was evident in the presentation by Pernilla Ohrstedt & Sarah Price Landscapes. But their whimsical botanical scheme, although a valid contradiction for this site, seemed somehow out of place on such a hard surface. Finally, the proposal by TaylorSnell attempted to turn the site into a kind of stage set. One only could wonder how it would work in the absence of lots of people to give a sense of activity to the site.

This project is proof that competitions are even useful for small projects, and often can make a world of difference. Oh that more clients could take a cue from this forward-looking foundation.


carmody groarke
Entry by Carmody Groarke
 architecture 00
Entry by Architecture 00
duggan morris
Entry by Duggan Morris
pernilla ohrstedt  sarah price landscapes
Entry by Pernilla Ohrstedt & Sarah Price Landscapes
Entry by TaylorSnell