From the archive: 91 Wellington Street by Neometro, 2006.
The mixed use, 4 storey building has 10 live-work studios – 4 single level units (currently used as offices) on the first floor, and 6 two storey residential apartments above.
On the ground floor a compact 28 m2 café (‘Cross’ – also designed by Neometro and lined with plywood offcuts from the studio floors above) provides an active interface that has helped foster a sense of community between the building – the new kid on the block – and the local neighbourhood. Working within the constraints of a very tight space and budget, the café ‘borrows’ space from the building lobby, the narrow gardens on either side, and the nature strip out front, so that the interior spills out of its restrictive envelope and becomes a friendly and inclusive addition to the street.
A flight of stairs (designed to allow a disabled stair lifter to be retrofitted if required) leads from street level to a 3m wide internal ‘laneway’ which cuts through the centre of the building. This open slot accommodates the external stair accessing the upper level units, provides a small communal garden, and creates a breezeway that assists with passive ventilation for all the units. An open timber screen above the entry – incorporating an artwork by sculptor Todd Butterworth, draws in cooling southerly breezes and directs them into the central breezeway.
The building is constructed of robust, low maintenance materials including precast concrete panels with a rebated ‘cross’ pattern created from a mould made of more plywood cutoffs, and balustrades made from hollow core concrete blocks laid sideways to form budget ‘breezeblocks’. ESD features include double glazing, and solar hot water units to service both hotwater and hydronic heating.
Cross is a modest little project. But the design process did have one underlying big idea, and that was to help foster a sense of community between the building – the new kid on the block – and the local neighbourhood. Cross opens off the building lobby, and is used as a meeting place for the occupants of studio offices and apartments above. In addition, it attracts workers from surrounding businesses, people from the residential neighbourhood across the street, and passersby and parents doing the drop-off/pick ups at a nearby school.
Working within the constraints of a very tight space and budget, the café ‘borrows’ space from the building lobby, the narrow gardens on either side, and the nature strip out front, so that the interior spills out of its compact envelope and becomes a friendly and inclusive addition to the neighbourhood.
Cross is the owners’ first foray into the world of hospitality ownership. Their brief was that the fitout had to be as cheap as possible, and primarily geared around a daytime business of serving quick coffees and simple food – a cross between a ‘hole in the wall’ café and a sandwich bar. Cross has a maximum of 3 staff – a barrista to meet and greet and make the coffee, and one or two people preparing and serving food.
The main constraint of the café shell was the very compact volume, with a 2400mm high ceiling, and 34 sqm total floor area – 6 sqm of which was taken up by the disabled toilet and its lobby, leaving 28sqm to fit everything else, including the kitchen facilities.
Every square centimetre is used and the layout is very simple – when you enter all is revealed, and everything revolves around the coffee machine. The coffee machine is up first, followed by food display and preparation, with a tiny wash up and storage area tucked around the corner
No part of this café could be called truly private… this is an open interior in the most obvious sense. However there are levels of exposure – banquette seating with small tables along one side wall creates a slightly more intimate zone, or people can choose to sit in the window at the community table. Alternatively they can sit right outside on little stools, or at the pavement tables, or perch on a slab of recycled timber that forms a bench seat in the tiny front garden.
Finishes were budget driven and limited to a very simple palette. Cross has minimal lighting, and no airconditioning – relying on natural ventilation and ceiling fans. The interior ‘bones’ of the concrete floor and ceiling are left exposed. One wall is clad in plywood offcuts from the studio floors above, laid in a ‘cross’ pattern that reflects the texture on the external precast panels (and which contributed to the café’s name). A low wall beneath one side window is finished in recycled coloured glazed tiles that one of the owners had been hoarding. And, on the back wall, a tried but true trick – mirror used to visually expand the space and reflect the leafy street trees into the interior.
Cross was deliberately not ‘over designed’.. one wall was left bare to let the owners layer their own personality onto the space – when the shots were taken the owners were still finding their feet in this area!