A new café, designed by Knox Bhavan Architects, stands at the heart of The Level, a well-used and historic park on the main approach to Brighton. The park landscape has been restored and revitalised by Land Use Consultants (LUC) with new walkways, a water fountain, skate park and children’s playground. LUC selected the position of the new café building and invited Knox Bhavan Architects to join the team. The café is designed to be an integral part of the landscape design, as Sasha Bhavan explains:
“What we try to do is dissolve the building into the setting, so the visitor just feels they are in the landscape and in the park. Each side is facing a different activity and a change in the spirit of the place. One side is the thoroughfare. The rear side looks on to the road. The other side faces greenery, playspace and parents hanging around with children. The far end looks out on to the landscape, engaging with what’s going on across the park. The building is definitely orientated in relation to what we know is happening with the land.”
The building is small and modest, but one which has been designed with great care, achieving an elegant simplicity. In shape it is a long, single-storey structure with a pitched roof and a continuous rooflight at the ridge; the roof is planted with local grasses and wild flowers to blend in with the park landscape. Full-height glazed walls to the café offer wideranging views over the surrounding park and the fountain; closer in they give excellent visual surveillance of the children’s play area on the south-facing side and on the north and east sides they invite those passing on the main pedestrian thoroughfare – local residents, dog walkers, skate boarders and pedestrians – to stop and visit.
Timber is used externally to link the building to its natural landscape setting; windows and doors have oak frames and the walls are clad with vertical larch boards. On the south and east sides a larch pergola provides shading and a glazed canopy on the north side gives shelter. In good weather all doors can be opened and this achieves a seamless visual transition from inside to outside, emphasized by the use of the same paved floor finish continuing from the café to the outside spaces.
“Care and coordination over thresholds – ensuring that materials or paving complement or even carry on through the building – makes all the difference over that perception of quality and the sense that the building is conversing with its surroundings”, says Bhavan.