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Design Masterclass: Designing kitchens in significant and notable buildings

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Two of the industries most decorated designers, Ken Winch FFCSI and Tim Smallwood FFCSI, address the challenge of designing in buildings of note

The foodservice designer, when approaching work with a specialist team on a significant or notable building that has a historic or other significant purpose, has to recognise that they will experience a layer of responsibility that is totally different to any other type of project if they are to succeed.

The special projects we are considering here can be simple upgrades of existing facilities, repairs or replacements as a result of a change of purpose or, in some extreme cases, the project will involve a total and extensive restoration resulting from major damage or disaster.

The level of difficulty will certainly exceed that of an upgrade or repair of a commercial or industrial building as a result of the additional requirement to consider protected features, the structure of the building as well as all of its original historical context.

The foodservice designer has an equal, though less testing responsibility, even when designing facilities for a new public or institutional building such as a parliament building, a museum, or embassy, all of which will be expected to project the significance of their purpose to the community long into the future.

The context of the original design

From the start the designer has to be aware that with a restoration it is both the past as well as the recent history of the original facilities that has to be considered. It is not acceptable to impose the most obvious, the simplest or most convenient solution on the building without considering the context of the original design and construction; its unchangeable features, equipment and, more significantly, the physical limitations and constraints.

An issue that will always face the foodservice consultant on all projects, particularly the renovation of an old facility, all the normal design issues are magnified when dealing with a historic or architecturally significant building. Costing and budgeting have to be established on the basis that these types of kitchens will be operational for a far longer lifetime compared with a normal commercial building.

Also, the quality of the outcome has to match the history and future purpose of the building as well as the ability to maintain the excellence of the food and its presentation. In many cases the kitchen facilities may stand idle for extended periods, which can add a further complexity to the engineering of the solution and therefore the budget – but provided all these factors are taken into consideration, the eventual additional costs involved will always prove to be a sound long term investment.

To understand the issues that can be involved it’s useful to look at an example of the failure to recognise context of an upgrade in a historic building. This involved the construction of a new kitchen in a nineteenth century government house building, where the original kitchens, as was the tradition, were in the basement and positioned so they could directly service various rooms on the ground floor. Instead of rebuilding the spacious basement kitchens and upgrading the vertical links from the kitchens to the various ground floor areas in the renovation, the designers converted an existing public space on the ground floor to squeeze a constrained kitchen that could effectively only service the main historic 50 seat dining room.

This not only disrupted the public flow on the ground floor but compromised the back-of-house service flow to the extent that, when servicing all the other ground floor areas, there was no link and service staff from the new kitchen had to pass through the main historic dining room. To avoid damaging the carpet every time an event took place, which was more frequently than for the dining room, it had to be covered to protect it from wear and spills. This is an example of where it is the responsibility of the foodservice designer to contribute to the heritage design teams’ understanding of how the original kitchens works and is fitted into the overall building use and therefore inform a solution in context with the original purpose.

A much smaller example of recognising the background and history of a building is a 1960’s art gallery café upgrade where the building is of architectural importance with features in the original fit out and furniture that could and should be replicated into the detail of the new design to maintain the attachment to the original.

This is not to attempt to recreate an old kitchen but to recognise and reflect the look and feel of the original. Materials or particular stainless steel furniture details can be applied to respect the original rather than simply imposing a standard approach that is convenient and easy for the designer, or worse still, where they have perhaps lacked forethought and imagination. In this case the choice is entirely up to the kitchen designer to be aware of and respond to the original context of the building in the detail design.

Efficiency isn’t everything

The same applies to new buildings of significance. The context has to be recognised in the purpose of the building lifetime place through understanding its public image, impact and importance. Such buildings are generally intended to last for many generations, and it is not just about incorporating the latest technology but also concerns the quality of the equipment, the detailing, manufacture and finishes that are of more significance than with a commercial building where the prime and often only consideration is efficiency and which may have a much shorter anticipated lifespan.

Far more complex for the designer are the restorations and upgrades of historic buildings. These not only have to take into consideration all of the requirements of the complex and multi-functional aspects of a commercial kitchen, but which frequently have to be achieved with extreme limitations on the changes that can be made to the original structure.

In some cases there will be features in areas of the kitchen that cannot be touched in order to make them fit for their 21st century and long-term future purpose. Occasionally, the only solutions possible in these situations is for the heritage team to record and photograph all the details and seal them up; if possible providing viewing ports so future generations can be aware of the history of the original. While this might add to the difficulty of maintenance, it requires the foodservice designer to apply forethought and imagination to develop an effective functional solution, as always requiring an acceptable cost.

At another level, as with any renovations where there is no documentation of the original or a later developed construction, the redesign may be based on assumptions that particular walls or partitions can be demolished, but only to be discovered as being impossible after work has commenced and found to be enclosing structural or critical building services that cannot be relocated or, if they can, at considerable expense.

Far more difficult to resolve are construction detail design issues where building services access and penetrations are limited by historic considerations. In some cases a complete redesign of particular areas of the kitchen may become necessary to overcome the problem so as to ensure that the original and future function of the facilities is not compromised.

These are some of the planning and design issues expected to be addressed by the foodservice designer where an empathy and total understanding of working with specialist, heritage architects and conservationists are essential skills when being involved and working with historic buildings.

Projects of note

The following case studies from the UK are examples where the awareness of these considerations has been essential to the successful outcome:

Windsor Castle: The restoration followed the devastating fire in 1992, where approximately 1.5 million gallons of water was used to extinguish the fire added to the damage and which took five years until 1997 to complete at a cost in the order of GB £40m.

The Great Kitchen, rumoured to have been first established some 800 years ago was completely destroyed when the 20m (60 ft) high ceiling collapsed. During the reconstruction existing walls and corridors were able to be retained with some of these being between 3 -5 metres thick.

The total reconstruction of the kitchens incorporated the original restored worktop units that were at least 150 years old by adding drop on stainless steel tops and restoring a boiling table, which started life as a wood fired grill, later converted to open gas burners and then further remodelled to make it safe with approved auto shut-off valves.

One of the two original wood fired spit roast units at the extreme end of the kitchen was totally restored to full working order to preserve its context in the original traditional kitchen even though it will never be actually used.

Other ovens damaged by the extent of water damage were restored and incorporated into the design as were the original Wyatville designed dresser furniture units which are of pinewood construction and installed in the early 19th century.

The original flag stone kitchen floor had to be replaced with new tiles and incorporate new stainless steel floor channels. It was a humbling experience just to be looking down at the immense history of a floor that could have been 800 years old trodden by generations of chefs and cooks.

A wall painting was discovered in what was designated as part of the multiple preparation section of the kitchen. This section was redesigned, and the painting encapsulated within a hermetically sealed display case. In this same section a walk-in cold room with a door at each end formed the fire escape route from the kitchen to resolve a planning issue limited by the original historic building design.

During the design process the outline of a circular stair was exposed and the historians dated this to the time that King George III was confined at Windsor Castle (1810) and formed part of his accommodation. This was incorporated into part of the new pastry kitchen.

Major cooking appliances were built into the original chimney’s which were lined with stainless steel with exhaust ducts connected to modern ventilation canopies complete with operational lighting. A feature was the inclusion of ‘jewellery spot lighting’ to feature historic copper cooking pans and utensils when the Great Kitchen is occasionally open to the public. During public open days the stainless steel tops to the original work benches are removed so that the more historic look and feel of the kitchen is experienced by visitors.

This project was the most challenging because there were minimal record drawings of the current or earlier kitchens and the historic aspects of the installation had to be retained. All this while recognising that the restoration would never be able to fully replace everything as it was and even when considered, replacement would be limited to when absolutely necessary.

At all times it was necessary to balance the historic with the need to ensure the necessary safety and operational functions of the kitchens and incorporate the most appropriate contemporary highly efficient quality equipment where possible.

Buckingham Palace: Here, the whole of the foodservice operation was remodelled to enable the construction of the new Queen’s Gallery.

The Palace can be likened to a Michelin-star hotel in that it provides the F&B requirements for a room service operation for the whole royal family as well as a constant flow of visitors and guests associated with their charities and many other interests and responsibilities.

The F&B service operates throughout the day and includes the staff restaurant, servicing the needs of meeting rooms through to garden parties and state banquets.

The design re-purposed area of existing office accommodation to provide the major storage and preparation facilities whilst the main kitchen was re-planned to create improved work flows and safety, as well as incorporating a new pastry kitchen in an adjacent space.

As with Windsor Castle, an existing original boiling table was retained and upgraded to current safety standard having started life as a wood fired grill modified to be gas open burners. An original 1800s tiered deck oven was incorporated but as a decorative, historic element in the kitchen.

The artesian well situated in the Palace garden was used to provide grey water circulation for the new water cooled refrigeration plant and which was also engineered to serve other domestic requirements throughout the Palace at a later date.

Balmoral Castle (1856): The personal property of Queen Elizabeth II required a total refurbishment of the existing foodservice facilities, where conservation was of extreme importance.

Access to the kitchen through the principal storage area is accessible at ground level but is directly adjacent to an earth mound which results in sometimes freezing temperatures during the winter months in Scotland.

The overall kitchen refurbishment incorporated the original pine furniture, vegetable bins, worktops and a fully operational platform scale complete with lift on/off weights as well as the original white porcelain sink unit which were all retained without change.

Other historic aspects of the structure and kitchen dating back to Victorian times were retained where possible and the refurbishment undertaken at a quality and standard that would require minimum replacement expenditure and low maintenance costs with the castle being used less frequently than the royal families other properties.

House of Commons, London: The main kitchen refurbishment was required to provide for all the foodservice outlets as well as the kitchen serving the Members and Strangers (Guests) dining rooms, which have different menus.

The redesigns had to be developed taking into consideration the many constraints including a vast number of structural columns that had to be negotiated and the fact that not even a door could be repositioned yet the brief required the most energy efficient equipment and methods and modern approach to the design. The kitchen was completed in 1992 and is still operating without changes today. Please click here to see Ken Winch FFCSI’s original plans for the project: House of Commons_Design.

In conclusion:

It can be seen that not only must the foodservice designer respond to the heritage issues involved but understand that working on historic and notable buildings will impose difficulties through the lack of surveys and structural details or simply by the constraints of the building’s historic structure and associated engineering services demands.

At the same time, none these constraints will be permitted to affect the quality and standards of the F&B delivery and it becomes ever more important that the foodservice designer, whilst taking full account of the demand, applies an additional level of logic, imagination and creativity to ensure the facility enables the delivery of optimal service. The designer may need to abandon their normal methods and processes to look for alternative solutions and equipment details to overcome all the issues they will inevitably face.

Ken Winch FFCSI

Tim Smallwood FFCSI