The Cheese Barge was commissioned through an open design competition by British Land, which has been redeveloping the 11-acre Paddington Central area around the canal since 2013. It has pumped £15million into redesigning the public realm adjoining the canal tow path, including two other cafes on converted barges originally used in the Olympic Park. The Cheese Barge restaurant is now permanently moored in the canal alongside these cafes just below the Bishops Bridge Road overpass.
A sloping green “cowl” skirting the elongated form of the barge draws on James Stirling’s vaporetto-inspired Electa bookshop pavilion in the Giardini of the Venice Biennale – bringing a touch of Venice to the edge of Little Venice – but also the tarpaulins historically used to cover cargo-carrying canal boats. While the a subtle zig-zag pattern on the verdigris-coloured patinated metal references the wavering water.
“One of my favourite buildings is in Venice, which is James Stirling’s Electa pavilion in the Biennale gardens. It’s this long, thin building that’s glazed and has this fantastic copper cowl,” says Richards. “I’ve got a little book about it that has Stirling’s sketches and he was drawing boats as part of the design and there’s a whole text about how he’s interested in vaporettos and the festive character of boats. There’s something really nice about designing a boat that’s based on a building that’s based on a boat.”
“We wanted it to be innovative, but in keeping with the culture and heritage of the area,” says Isabel Turner of British Land, describing the brief for the project. “Adam’s design was the stand out winner for us. It felt like it was innovative but sympathetic to the local area.”
Blue wainscotting and wooden benches give a nautical feel to the interior, which features cork-covered tables, reclaimed ship passageway lighting, terrazzo-patterned linoleum and blackened metal chairs – a scheme devised by interiors studio Raven Collective. The restaurant serves a menu of British cheeses sourced directly from the farm, and the wheels and wedges of cheese form part of the interior decoration, presented in a glass-fronted fridge that separates the main dining hall from a smaller seating area and toilets located by the entrance.
An external staircase at one end of the barge leads to the upper deck where a suit of bar stools and raised tables offer al fresco dining.
A small pod affixed to the other is occupied by the kitchen, maximising the main footprint of the boat for diners. The curvaceous buoy-like structure is hinged to the barge, allowing it to articulate around bends in the canal.
The barge was made in a workshop in Somerset, brought up by road and craned into the canal where it was floated into position.
Adam Richards Architects was founded in 2002 and is run from studios in London and Sussex. Among the practice’s past projects is Richard’s own home, Nithurst Farm, which was reviewed by Takero Shimazaki of Takero Shimazaki Architects for Architecture Today and won the RIBA South East Building of the Year Award in 2019. The practice has also designed a sequence of buildings at the Tudor artillery fortress Walmer Castle in Kent.