ACM Café Cento Design Competition

State Victoria
Client Arts Centre Melbourne
Competition EOI and Two Stage Design Competition
Winner Cumulus Studio
David Islip Design Review Panellist, OVGA
Hamish Lyon Director, NH Architecture
Frank Bischoff Director of Food & Beverage, Arts Centre Melbourne
Kristen Eckhardt Director of Marketing and Communications, Arts Centre Melbourne
Vanessa Bird Director, Bird de la Coeur Architects

The Competition
Arts Centre Melbourne retained CityLab as the Competition Advisor for the design competition aiming to renew Café Cento. The competition was run as an EOI and two-stage design competition.

The winning design by Cumulus Studio titled Protagonist looks at what lies behind the monolithic walls of the Arts Centre, aiming to create a destination that extends the arts-precinct experience into the city streets.

The Brief
The brief embraced the potential of the café to be a place to enjoy people-watching and the good weather, while being sufficiently sheltered, to permit use 365 days a year. Given these multiple competing requirements, the jury’s task was not simply one of ‘ticking every box’, but rather of selecting the design proposition that best balanced the tensions within the brief.

The Theatres Building has the capacity to receive large numbers of visitors, particularly from the forecourt. For this reason, the brief specifically outlines the need for Cento to provide clear legibility and orientation, particularly at times of bottle-neck, pre and post performance.

The Winner
Versatility is one of the key strengths of this design. When open if feels fully a part of the Theatre Buildings forecourt, allowing for informal and variable use to extend well beyond its boundaries. When closed, it can host events and, with curated lighting, set the mood for evening drinks and light meals, pre or post event.

The submission represents a highly efficient construction solution, with concrete ballast provided by the café counters, which help support a number of slender, cranked, steel columns. Its internal layout provides for four clearly articulated zones, distinguishing service areas, seating areas, pop-up merchandising and a plug-and-play space.

The golden chainmail provides drama and a unique ambiance, particularly when lit theatrically. The jury considered this submission to meet the multiple, complex requirements of the brief with an efficiency of means and clarity of design.

This project won the Small Architecture Award at the 2020 Victorian Architecture Awards and a commendation in the Small Project Architecture category at the 2020 National Architecture Awards.