When Pret a Manger had the opportunity to expand its cafÃ© at the Bicester Retail Village in Oxfordshire, it also took on a courtyard area. This area has subsequently been converted into the chain’s first cafÃ© garden. While designers from The Formation worked on the interiors, Elizabeth Banks Associates developed the outdoor scheme. ‘The brief was to reflect Pret’s use of solid, industrial materials and contemporary design and provide a variety of seating areas for 60 people,’ says Heide Tjom, a co-designer with Robert Myers. The long, slim garden has been given a gently curving central spine, marked by decking and a long bench. The rest of the ground is finished in concrete, an extension of the interior flooring, with the five-pointed Pret logo embedded into it. Furniture includes classic aluminium chairs and tables, and large slatted iroko tables and benches, designed by EBA. ‘The idea was to provide different types of sitting and eating areas in a small space,’ says Tjom. ‘Because the shopping village attracts a lot of families and groups of people, we made the tables large. However, there is also the option of sitting alone or in a small party at the aluminium tables. In time the iroko will weather to a beautiful silver colour that will match the aluminium.’
The planting is understated and clever. Breaking up the seating area at one side of the garden are groves of lush green bamboo which look contemporary and make useful screens between diners. Set into the concrete and the long bench are liquidamber trees – their leaves are a highly distinctive five-pointed star to match the company logo. And across the walls, a trellis is in place to hold virginia creeper, which also has pointed leaves. Both the trees and the creeper produce startling autumnal leaves in reds, which are close to Pret a Manger’s corporate colour.
The second phase of the scheme is to make a children’s play area at the far end. This work should be underway soon.