Adam Richards Architects (ARA), an architecture practice with studios in London and Sussex, has unveiled its design for what’s likely the first sit-down floating fromagerie in the United Kingdom: The Cheese Barge.
Now permanently moored along the Grand Union Canal in central London’s 11-acre Paddington Central mixed-use district, ARA’s 65-foot-long custom-designed vessel is home to the newest addition to restauranteur and gourmet grilled cheese guru Mathew Carver’s British cheese-focused culinary empire. That follows the Cheese Truck and the Cheese Bar, the latter being Carver’s flagship restaurant in the historic Camden Stables Market. The Cheese Bar’s buoyant new counterpart, the Cheese Barge, offers much of the same but in a slightly offshore setting.
Topped with a sloping, verdigris-colored patinated metal roof that references both the tarpaulin covers of working canal barges and the inclined sides of classic canal boats, ARA’s design for the double-decker Cheese Barge was the winning entry in a 2018 design competition hosted by real estate development company British Land. While the barge pays homage to the historic vessels populating London’s canal system, inspiration also came from more unsuspecting places, including—rather topically —James Stirling’s Electa bookshop pavilion at the Giardini della Biennale in Venice. As noted in a press release showcasing the Cheese Barge, Stirling’s design was itself ship-inspired.
“It is wonderful to be asked to design a space for the pleasurable activity of eating and drinking on the canal,” said Adam Richards, director of ARA, in a statement. “The barge creates a festive and sophisticated environment, whilst drawing on the heritage of narrow-boat design and local social history. It has also been an opportunity to pay homage to James Stirling’s Electa bookshop in Venice: one of my favourite buildings. That building was inspired by the designs of boats—so it was fun to design a boat based on a building based on a boat!”
Further non-nautical design inspiration came from the life and work of Hertha Marks Ayrton, a trailblazing electrical engineer who lived in Paddington during the early 20th century. In tribute to Ayrton, who was the first female awarded with the Royal Society of London’s Hughes Medal for her research into electric arcs, ARA incorporated copper tones throughout the vessel. Copper, as ARA pointed out, is a common material used in electrical experiments due to its high level of conductivity.
In addition to copper, the restaurant’s cozy interior, designed by Raven Collective, is filled with maritime touches including wall sconces reclaimed from old ship passageways, boat cleats, and buoy-esque table lamps.
The vessel itself was hand-welded and assembled in Somerset by Darren Gervis, Marine Fabrications, and was constructed to fully navigate the locks and tunnels of London’s canal system. Access to the boat is on the same level as the canal towpath, with restrooms and the 40-seat main dining room, which is wrapped in a sheath of glazing, on that same level. A flight of stairs higher on the upper deck of the boat is an uncovered terrace where guests can nibble al fresco on mozzarella and smoked bacon grilled cheese sandwiches or eight different cheese board varieties..
The Cheese Barge’s kitchen is located on a separate vessel connected to the main boat by an external bridge, a move that maximizes the amount of usable floor space within the main boat while also providing a “theatrical stage for the arrival of food to diners” according to the firm. The design of the kitchen-boat, “treated as an ancillary space,” was inspired by nautical buoys.
Joining ARA, Raven Collective, and Darren Gervis on the project were naval architect CP Heath Marine Consultants (also mechanical and electrical engineer) and project manager CPC Project Services.
Although the project experienced significant delays due to the pandemic, the Cheese Barge is now open and taking reservations.