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Labworth Cafe
Eastern Esplanade, Canvey Island, Essex, UK
Labworth Cafe
associated engineer
Sir Ove Arup
date  1932 - 1933
UK era  Modern  |  category  Building  |  reference  TQ800824
photo  Jane Joyce
Labworth Café sits on the waterfront wall at the western end of Eastern Esplanade at Canvey Island. It was designed by Ove Arup, working as architect, engineer and contractor in his capacity as chief designer for Christiani & Nielsen. The small circular concrete pavilion represents an early step in Modernist architecture in the UK.
Christiani & Nielson was a Danish civil engineering firm that specialised in harbour and quayside projects for the maritime industry. Arup worked for them between 1924 and 1934, initially in Hamburg but from 1925 in their London office, where he rose to become chief designer, specialising in concrete technology.
In 1932, Christiani & Nielson and Arup worked on a replacement for the long seawall at Canvey Island. Although primarily a coastal protection project, a leisure/amenity element was included. This gave Arup the opportunity to take on the architectural work and put into practice his ideas about the advantages of close collaboration between architect and engineer. Here he could fulfill both roles, and interest in the design possibilities afforded by architects and engineers working together was to be a constant theme throughout his career.
His design influences were Modernist and he would go on to work with the leading Modern Movement architects in the country, starting with Berthold Lubetkin, who he would meet in 1933.
Labworth Café is a symmetrical composition with the circular café at its heart. It is flanked by a pair of single storey wings originally constructed as open shelters but now glazed. Observation decks occupy their roofs. The central rotunda is two storey above the level of the seawall into which the whole is integrated. Its windows are steel framed, and the whole structure is painted white.
Arup later expressed misgivings about the project on several levels. He was critical of his perceived lack of commitment by Christiani & Nielsen and also of the quality of the workmanship. He was dismayed to see standards appropriate to marine projects extended to this architectural project. Arup also seemed reluctant to undertake the necessary level of site supervision required.
It might be argued that a lack of the political impetus that he saw in other Modern Movement buildings had a detrimental effect on his view of Labworth. The design of many pioneering Modernist buildings sprang from strong socialist and community aspirations. Arup left Christiani & Nielsen in 1934 to join JL Kier & Co, where he saw the possibility of better opportunities to explore his ideas.
Labworth Café is still in use as a restaurant today. It's a Grade II listed building and well worth a trip to Canvey Island to visit.
Architect: Sir Ove Arup
Main contractor: Chritiani & Nielsen
Research: ND
reference sources   OA

Labworth Cafe