Published on July 24th, 2018 | by Admin

Cento to be transformed

Arts Centre Melbourne’s popular forecourt café, Cento, will be reinvented by Melbourne’s Cumulus Studio after an architectural design competition to transform the pop-up eatery into a fresh-faced, contemporary food and beverage outlet.

In April 2018, Arts Centre Melbourne invited small and emerging Victorian architectural design practices to submit an Expression of Interest. 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 beloved but ageing Cento, creating a unique food and beverage offer truly befitting the Melbourne coffee experience.

The brief to freshen up the ten-year-old Cento was tricky. The venue must welcome all, from passing workers and school kids to throngs of eager 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,” said 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.”

A number of considerations proved important for the jury in the evaluation of submissions against the competition’s four evaluation criteria: the relationship between Cento and Arts Centre Melbourne’s Theatres Building, a site of important heritage value; the forecourt being a key entry point for visitors; and striking a balance between the need for Cento to have its own identity, while not competing with, challenging or obstructing views to the Theatres Building.

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

The winning entry was by Melbourne’s Cumulus Studio. Keith Westbrook, Director, Cumulus Studio Melbourne, described the design as an opportunity for the unfamiliar public to penetrate the serious and monolithic façade of the Theatres 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. Specifically, the design plays on the iconic and universally understood element of the theatre curtain as a device to signify ‘open’ and ‘closed’,” said Keith.

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,” Hamish said. “The layout provides for four clearly articulated zones, distinguishing service areas, seating areas and a plug & play space.”

Jury members:

  • Vanessa Bird, Director, Bird de la Coeur Architects 
  • Frank Bischoff, Director of Food and Beverage, Arts Centre Melbourne
  • Kristen Eckhardt, Director of Marketing and Communications, Arts Centre Melbourne
  • David Islip, Principal Adviser, Office of the Victorian Government Architect
  • Hamish Lyon, Director, NH Architecture

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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