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New cafe for Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park

A cafe with a design influenced by exhibits in the Imperial War Museum will open in Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park this autumn.

GMH cafe

The design was approved by Southwark Council's planning committee last month and building work will start in the summer.

Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park surrounds the museum, serving visitors to the top London attraction as well as to local residents.

The new café, which includes a public toilet will replace the existing refreshments kiosk which is due for demolition.

The cafe was designed by Bermondsey-based Architects in Residence in collaboration with Southwark's own building design team.

The architects worked closely with structural consultants Built Engineers to develop a robust and contemporary feel to reflect other recent projects in the park such as the World Garden.

"Buildings that provide very necessary functions can still be adventurous in their design," comments parks manager Jon Sheaff. "We were keen from the start to build something that is evocative of many of the exhibits in the Imperial War Museum and provides a striking addition to an already heavily used open space."

The exterior of the building will be clad in aluminium and the overhanging roof will be made of steel.

At night, perforated shutters will allow light to filter from the lit café onto the surrounding green space.

Jo Townshend from Architects in Residence added: "We saw this building as a dynamic piece responding to, and positively influencing, the wider park area. The forms of the building are reminiscent of exhibits in the Imperial War Museum and have evolved from the challenges of the requirements of a kiosk where a building's boundaries and definitions of open and closed can be manipulated in a playful manner."

However, the cafe plan is not without controversy. The St George's Circus Group. which campaigns to protect historic buildings in the streets surrounding the circus. objected to the application because of its impact on the 1835 wall which surrounds part of the park.

In a written objection, chairman Ian Alderson explained that whilst the proposed cafe itself is a "very considerable improvement" on the status quo, "We do hoverver. very strongly object to the proposed vandalism of the adjacent historic listed wall.

"Sidney Smirke constructed the wall in 1835 as part of his enlargement of Bethlem Hospital. In his 1838 plan it is clearly shown as forming the northern boundary of the enclosed grounds of the hospital. This was an important stage in the history of the area; for as well as almost doubling the size of hospital, it involved the rerouting of St George's Road, the building of the lodge and the setting out of a formal garden, also to Smirke's design, to the north of the boundary wall."

SGCG contends that the partial demolition of the historic wall is not necessary for the commercial viability of the cafe.

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