Mizzi Studio, The Royal Parks, Serpentine Coffee House (2).jpg
Interviews

Green spaces should be out of this world

Jonathan Mizzi, founder of Mizzi Studio, explains why design matters for our cities green spaces.

Read time 10 minutes

Tell me a little bit about yourself and Mizzi Studio?

I’m an architect, designer and artist with a huge passion for science fiction and love for nature. Growing up, I was fascinated by the futuristic worlds found in films such as Avatar and Star Wars, which seemed so exciting, free and beautiful. In between my architecture degrees I also studied visual effects and animation at USC film school in LA, where I decided to make it my mission in life to make the fantastical worlds of a film a reality. The digital skill set that I gained led me to work as a concept designer at Foster + Partners before going on to work in interactive design at Jason Bruges Studio and Cinimod Studio, where I was a lead designer in creating brands such as Snog frozen yoghurt.

I founded Mizzi Studio in 2011 and today we’re a multidisciplinary team of architects, interior designers and industrial designers with a goal to make the physical world a better place. We seek out projects which have a positive social and environmental impact, add tangible value, and make our public realm a more beautiful place to live in. We work across sectors and at every scale, from architecture to artworks. The studio is developing my first furniture series which has started with the Awkward Table, which is now available on eporta.

Jonathan Mizzi Founder of Mizzi Studio his latest design, 'The Awkward Table'.
Jonathan Mizzi Founder of Mizzi Studio his latest design, 'The Awkward Table'.

The Project

How did the royal parks project come about?

We have been working within The Royal Parks since the inception of our studio. The extension of The Pheasantry Welcome Centre in Bushy Park was our first project in 2011. We were invited to bid for that project on behalf of artisan café brand Colicci, and it's amazing that we're still working with the same family seven years later to transform ten sites across Green Park, Hyde Park and St James’s Park. We are fortunate to have clients such as Colicci who understand the importance and impact that good design has on the environment and how it improves the experience for their customers.

What was the project brief?

The Royal Parks wanted unique and creative designs that responded to the history of the parks and also their enjoyment today. They also needed to align with The Royal Parks brand values of being welcoming, sustainable and remarkable. We also had to carefully consider the use of space and practicalities such as waste disposal – every detail!

Ritz Corner Kiosk, by Mizzi Studio for The Royal Parks. Photo Luke Hayes.png
Ritz Corner Kiosk, by Mizzi Studio for The Royal Parks. Photo Luke Hayes.png

Where did your inspiration for this project from?

For the kiosks, we wanted to harness the familiarity of an old oak tree but give it a more contemporary form. The concept for the Serpentine Coffee House was spawned from the waters and curved form of the Serpentine Lake itself. We wanted to create a building that possessed the same hypnotic force of a Cobra but at the same time offered a calm environment akin to a traditional Japanese tea house. The end result is a fluid building that echoes the characteristics of a pagoda and is evocative of a smiling stingray in flight.

What’s the expected completion time of the project?

A few timber kiosks have already opened, and the final flagship brass kiosk will be installed in July. We have also designed an eat-in café, the Serpentine Coffee House, which features a spectacular undulating brass roof and is opening by the Serpentine Bridge in June.

If the sky was falling, I would want to be in one of these kiosks because the structure is so strong.

As the kiosks are across numerous sites, how important is it that they still seem aesthetically connected?

We felt it was important that each kiosk responded to the history and nuances of their specific location while also being part of the same family. All of the kiosks boast a sculptural canopy that swells out like a tree’s crown creating a noble and recognisable silhouette within the parks.

Up close, you will notice they have differing characteristics. Some are more conservative with a cylindrical shape clad in slatted oak (such as the kiosk at Ritz Corner) whereas others are more spirited (such as the kiosk at Hyde Park Playground), with a playful mushroom form and softer rounded timber cladding. However, they ultimately all follow and serve the same functionality with their servery, condiments area and a protective canopy.

Hyde Park Playground Kiosk by Mizzi Studio, for The Royal Parks.
Hyde Park Playground Kiosk by Mizzi Studio, for The Royal Parks.

The flagship Horse Shoe Bend kiosk in St James’s Park, in view of Buckingham Palace, is clad entirely in tubular brass to mirror the ornate precious metals of Queen Victoria’s Memorial, and we chose timber cladding for the other kiosks to strengthen their relationship with the park environment.

We hope their individuality will surprise and delight people as they walk through the parks.

Horse Shoe Bend kiosk in St James’s Park, in view of Buckingham Palace.
Horse Shoe Bend kiosk in St James’s Park, in view of Buckingham Palace.

The Royal Parks are aiming to become a sustainability leader, how did you incorporate this ethos into your design?

Two key considerations were that they would be built to last and use sustainable materials. A great deal of time was spent in engineering, material choice and finishes so they will be enjoyed for many years to come. If the sky was falling, I would want to be in one of these kiosks because the structure is so strong. The oak that curves around the kiosks has been sourced from a responsibly managed forest, and if ever needed, can be easily replaced without the wasteful act of building a new kiosk.

They are a combination of nature, love and functional sculpture.

How has it been dealing with the Grade 1 listing of the parks? Has this impacted your design in any way?

Not only are the kiosks and new café designed to respond sensitively to the Grade I listed park environment and are built to last, but they are also completely freestanding and can be removed with only a day’s notice. This ensures that they have minimal impact on the landscape.

One of our suppliers Tom Raffield, is creating the oak cladding, how did he get involved with the project?

We love to combine cutting edge manufacturing techniques with traditional craft whenever we can. We designed the curvaceous oak cladding with steam bending as the process in mind and we love the fact that Tom is really bringing back this art. We also admire the love and respect Tom gives this material in his furniture. The decision was therefore made with Colicci that Tom would be the perfect person to ensure the job gets done at the highest level and that his insight into the materials would help us further ensure a long lasting and sustainable outcome.

As with many projects it’s not always plain sailing, have there been any stumbling blocks along the way you’ve had to overcome? If so how?

There were some challenges with securing planning permission due to the sensitive nature of the site, but actually, we are really pleased that the authorities and such a traditional institution as The Royal Parks have welcomed our contemporary designs and are allowing us to come up with new and innovative responses to these challenges. These are challenges that have resulted in unique designs that hold a minimal impact on the land, which we can only be happy about.

What has been the highlight of the project for you so far?

It was amazing to see the first kiosk being driven into Green Park past Buckingham Palace and through Canada Gate, to find its home next to the Ritz! The biggest highlight was definitely when the kiosk was being craned down in one piece and gently touched down on the ground perfectly in place. We all breathed a sigh of relief and were grinning from ear to ear!

How would you describe the vision for these kiosks in 3 words?

They are a combination of nature, love and functional sculpture. Sorry, I cheated that’s four!

Serpentine Coffee House by Mizzi Studio for The Royal Parks.
Serpentine Coffee House by Mizzi Studio for The Royal Parks.

Mizzi on why design matters

In your own words why is design so important?

The design is not just important, it is everything and it is everywhere. It plays a critical role in our emotional wellbeing. Good design has the power to protect life, to instil joy, to bring people together and inspire them, and to make life more beautiful.

Architects have a great responsibility to society, especially when they are working on public realm projects and yes, there is a pressure that comes with this.

Specifically, why do you think it's so important for us to improve public spaces, especially in metropolitan cities like London?

Metropolitan cities such as London are extremely dense both in population and built environment with extremely high living costs. Many individuals and families have very small living spaces with little to no private green spaces. Space, especially green space, have a hugely positive impact on both our physical and mental health and it is, therefore, paramount for us to offer as much shared public space as possible within dense urban environments.

Good public spaces and architecture also play a key part in forming the identity of a city. They create a sense of unity whilst instilling people with a sense of pride. London has one of the best skylines in the world but it's also home to amazing parks like The Royal Parks which are graciously spread throughout the city. They’re places to socialise, play and explore and are visited by millions of people every year. We’re proud to be contributing to those visitors having the best possible experience.

Blending in with its surroundings the Ritz Corner Kiosk by Mizzi Studio, for The Royal Parks. Photo Luke Hayes
Blending in with its surroundings the Ritz Corner Kiosk by Mizzi Studio, for The Royal Parks. Photo Luke Hayes

How do you cope with the pressure of such a prevalent project, that’s exposed to the opinions of the public?

We feel extremely privileged and honoured to have been entrusted with this project. Architects have a great responsibility to society, especially when they are working on public realm projects and yes, there is a pressure that comes with this. However, we always respect our site’s context and we approach every project with the utmost care and sensitivity. Studies have shown that linear, angular objects promote anxiety and fear whereas curves put us all at ease. Our forms are drawn from nature and are very soft and fluid, in keeping with the natural landscape. We hope that visitors from London and further afield will, therefore, be drawn to them. We’ve intentionally made the structures very tactile and joyful which we hope will allow people to directly engage with them.

We would love to one day be able to say we’ve cracked the formula to create a universal architecture that caters for mankind’s subjective nature! However, I don’t think that’s possible – we all have our own unique tastes and opinions and I think that’s what makes us as humans so fascinating. It’s no surprise that some of the world’s greatest landmarks have been the most divisive and controversial.

Devil's in the details- Ritz Corner Kiosk by Mizzi Studio, for The Royal Parks. Photo Luke Hayes
Devil's in the detail 2.jpg
Devil's in the details- Ritz Corner Kiosk by Mizzi Studio, for The Royal Parks. Photo Luke Hayes

Mizzi on Architecture

What's the best part of your job?

Almost everything about the job is incredibly exciting, from landing a new project and those first few steps, through the creative process with my very talented team. But, ultimately the most satisfying moment is seeing the building when it opens and really comes to life – seeing it serving its purpose and being enjoyed.

What's the hardest part of your job?

Finding balance. It is a constant juggling act, as is life. We’ve just set up a new studio in Malta and while I’m extremely excited to be working back in my home country, I find flying between London and Valletta leaves me with limited time for my family and friends. It’s no secret that the architecture profession sometimes demands long hours! If I get home too late, my baby girl will already be asleep and that kills me every time, so I am making it a point to get home for bath time as much as possible. Family must always come first.

Mizzi Studio, The Royal Parks, Triangle Car Park.jpg

What advice would you give to an architect just starting out?

Jump at every opportunity that presents itself. Always spell luck with a ‘P’ and Pluck your luck!

Invest in your brand and pick your projects carefully. Build a team of like-minded individuals and seek out clients that share the same philosophy, goals and principles in life. Our world is only getting more and more competitive so be prepared to work hard if you want a greater chance to excel in your career.

Are there any exceptional projects you've seen recently, that have inspired you & why?

Two instantly come to mind. One is Calatrava’s Oculus at Ground Zero which I visited on a holiday in New York last year. It is a unique creation, like a giant white-winged dove that has landed on Manhattan bringing together over a quarter of a million commuters daily through its transportation hub. The purity of the space was overwhelming, and it was an uplifting experience on such a grand scale unlike any other I had before.

The Oculus, at Ground Zero NYC. Image via Architectural Digest Photo by Hufton + Crow
The Oculus, at Ground Zero NYC. Image via Architectural Digest Photo by Hufton + Crow

Then there is Peter Zumthor’s Therme in Vals which I recently visited for a ski and spa break. I generally do not connect with cubic modern buildings but bathing in this spa this was almost a divine experience that was deeply restorative and resting. The play of water and caustic light bouncing on the monolithic quartzite is magical. It’s a masterpiece created by a perfectionist and executed by exceptional craftsmen, and a great example of a building that fits the material language of its town and landscape perfectly.

Peter Zumthor Vals Thermal Bath. Photo by Pol Martin
Peter Zumthor Vals Thermal Bath. Photo by Pol Martin
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