Case Study: Vardo Restaurant on the Kings Road, London
Negotiating growing visitor numbers with heritage and community needs, Nex designed a landmark building to reinvigorate a thriving London square.
Responding to Growing Needs
In the layered fabric of London, we are well-acquainted with spaces that combine the character of new and old. The challenge facing the new is finding a dialogue with all that came before to transform a place for the better – precisely the case when building in the Grade II listed site of Duke of York Square. As a new public space was created on a car park site in 2006, the square needed a new expanded restaurant building that could keep up with demand and reinvigorate this landmark destination.
Succeeding amongst 147 competitors in an international design competition to win the project, Nex grasped the complexity of context and many user groups when approaching the brief. Any central building in the square’s focal point would encounter challenges from every direction. A new addition to a thriving public square needed to feel at once open and accessible, while providing intimate spaces for gathering.
Public Engagement: A Recipe for Success
Our design process began with rigorous research through site visits and consulting with locals, market stall-holders, and the client for wider strategic insight into the complex brief. This investigation provided an essential basis for the team to hone a vision that went above and beyond the client’s initial needs. Inspired by the adjacent curved boundary wall of the Grade II Saatchi Gallery, we introduced the unifying concept of a wrapping spiral wall, or colonnade, to create a porous central space and a stair that allows public access to the roof. This new public space won strong support from local stakeholders, and following extensive public consultations, the project secured planning consent with no objections, almost unheard of in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
Creating a new public garden on the roof of the building was also instrumental in making the scheme viable, increasing capacity for the restaurant below while creating a new amenity for the local community. By simply elevating the view, it provides a peaceful promenade away from the bustle of the King’s Road from which to enjoy the square from all angles. The carefully designed planting was designed to create intimate spaces and complement the canopies of the mature plane trees circling the parade ground when viewed from King’s Road.
A Circle in the Square
A key priority of the design is its absence of a ‘front’ façade. Using a curved form, the building faces every square side simultaneously, disrupting the ordinary hierarchy of a shop’s front and back door. This allows the building to maintain a dialogue with the Saatchi Gallery to the south and King’s Road to the north while inviting visitors from all square corners. Realising the concept of the curved ribbon wall required extensive research into innovative construction techniques and structural modelling to achieve an exceptionally slender 150mm thickness.
All service areas are below ground, maximising the ground floor for customers and preserving the 360 ‘face’ of the restaurant. Subsequent design development was guided by programme, material, and technology decisions, resulting in a final design faithful to the original concept.
The wall elements were constructed from bespoke precast white concrete panels with marble aggregates allowing for wide-span arches and a refined material finish. The concrete takes on the quality of classical stone, a contemporary nod to the surrounding buildings. Once manufactured, the panels were shipped to the site and rapidly assembled.
Building Innovation to create a Dynamic Space
Far from seeing the building in isolation, the scheme always kept its wider potential in clear view. Designed with a focus on adaptability, the restaurant space can transform in response to the changeable British weather. By lowering the curved glass panels below the ground, the façade can dematerialise and allow the restaurant to spill into the square.
Pushing beyond existing glazing technologies, our team envisioned a system of curved glass panels that could disappear below ground, with their weight balanced by a counterweight system akin to a traditional sash window. Delivering this disappearing act of three curved ten-metre windows was a world-first innovation and required close collaboration with specialists across Europe.
When the glass is lowered, not only is there a transformation of the restaurant interior, but the slenderness of the concrete itself is fully revealed. Through the careful design of the concrete panels and maintaining a level threshold, the arches land with a light touch that allows the square to flow uninterrupted beneath them.
A Breath of Fresh Air for the Future
Through carefully selecting materials and designing the envelope to achieve high levels of thermal insulation and air-tightness, the finished project achieved a BREEAM Excellent rating. A rooftop air-source heat pump further reduces operational energy demand, while extensive planting enhances biodiversity.
Internal public spaces are naturally ventilated via the dynamic façade. Not only increasing the restaurant’s seating capacity, this ensures the building achieves harmony with its surroundings while adding an attractive new presence to the square. This was especially evident during the pandemic, when the building’s natural ventilation and adaptability allowed the restaurant to continue operating, and the public square thrived.