Cumulus Studio wins Cento competition

Cumulus Studio wins Arts Centre Melbourne’s café design competition

Jul 24, 2018
  • Article by Natalie Mortimer

Cumulus Studio has won an architectural design competition to transform Arts Centre Melbourne’s Cento café.

The performing arts centre invited small and emerging Victorian architectural design practices to submit an Expression of Interest in April to transform the pop-up eatery into a ‘fresh-faced, contemporary food and beverage outlet’.

The jury then selected four design led local practices: Cumulus Studio, Architecture Architecture, Sibling Architecture and Clare Cousins Architects, to participate in a design competition to reimagine the popular but ageing Cento.

The brief to freshen up the ten-year-old Cento was tricky: the venue has to welcome everyone, from passing workers and school kids to theatre goers, ballet students and performers.

“It must comfortably transition from a quick coffee stop in the morning, to an informal meeting space during the day, to a place for a light meal in the evening,” says Frank Bischoff, director Food and Beverage, Arts Centre Melbourne.

“The brief embraced the potential of the café to be a place to enjoy people-watching while being sufficiently sheltered to permit use 365 days a year in all the weather conditions Melbourne regularly musters. Given these multiple competing requirements, the jury’s task was selecting the design proposition that best balanced these tensions.”

Cumulus Studio wins Cento competition

The brief also called for sustainably designed proposes for a structure that is expected to have a lifespan of approximately five years.

Cumulus Studio’s winning entry is described by director Keith Westbrook as an opportunity for the unfamiliar public to penetrate the serious and monolithic façade of the theatre’s Building.

“The design proposal uses the café to create an opportunity for the theatre to have a presence on the street, by drawing upon the familiar aspects of the theatre to engage with the passing public and to create a new visitor experience relating to Arts Centre Melbourne’s brand,” he says. “Specifically, the design plays on the iconic and universally understood element of the theatre curtain as a device to signify ‘open’ and ‘closed’”.

Cumulus Studio design of Cento cafe at night

Design competition jury chair, Hamish Lyon, director, NH Architecture, said the panel considered that the strength of the Cumulus design was its balance between the competing needs for a space that responds to the forecourt, while providing a comfortable enclosed amenity.

“Versatility was one of the key strengths of the design. When ‘open’ if feels fully a part of the Theatre Buildings forecourt, and allows for informal and variable visitor occupation to extend well beyond its boundaries. When closed, it can host events and with changing lighting, set the mood for evening drinks and light meals, pre or post-event,” says Lyon. “The layout provides for four clearly articulated zones, distinguishing service areas, seating areas and a plug & play space.”

Inside the design of the new Melbourne Arts Centre Cento cafe

Second place in the design prize was awarded to Architecture Architecture, with the jury describing the concept as a bold vision, demonstrating both an intelligent resolution of elements and a spatial rigour that is highly commendable.

The new Cento at Arts Centre Melbourne is expected to open for business by Christmas 2018.

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