Award-winning architectural firm Arca Architects is based in central Manchester, England, and headed by architect John Lee. Arca’s Silver Café on the Morecambe Bay in England transformed the face of a quiet seaside town with a space that is both visually appealing and tactilely exciting.
The Silver Café won the 2009 Small Scale Commercial Award from the Manchester Society of Architects (MSA), and it was a finalist for two coveted Young Architect of the Year Awards in 2000.
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Silver Café: A Bright Spot Around the middle of the 20th century, Morecambe was a vibrant and thriving seaside resort. With the rise of the cheap package holiday and the collapse of the manufacturing industry, the area suffered a serious slowdown. Starting in the spring of 2006, the town made great strides toward reclaiming its glorious past, and in 2007, Lancaster City Council and their regeneration team sought a landmark design to fill the open space between the sea and the promenade. Entrants were encouraged to design a small café that could redefine an area alongside several weathered and worn seaside buildings.
The council selected Arca for the project. Lee and his team met with local neighborhood representatives and discovered that these representatives were far from conservative in their views of the space; they even supported ideas for unorthodox designs with a commanding presence. “The opportunity to create a new landmark structure seemed appropriate, given the historic legacy of exuberant seaside architecture and the wider regeneration benefits of a memorable form,” Lee says.
Using a feasibility study to provide a baseline for the proposals, the council and regeneration team requested a 40-50 seat café with a kitchen and several auxiliary spaces, as well as four public restrooms that could be placed nearby. Sandwiched between the promenade and the tall sea wall, a small café would have a good view of the wall—but not the bay. Arca responded with an innovative suggestion—to raise the café’s floor level above the sea wall to open up a spectacular vista. The team also recommended shelter for the outdoor spaces to encourage patrons to take in the fresh air.
Lee wrapped the leaning rounded rectangular frame of the café with a strip of shiny stainless steel, and he designed the restrooms to be a steel black cuboid. He describes the contrasting structures as “taking on the quality of autonomous objects deposited on the tide line.”
The café sits on a concrete raft foundation and has a steel superstructure, which is bound in plywood with a high-value insulation to the cladding material. To accommodate the raised site, Arca created a ramp that links the café to several redesigned promenade gardens below. The team also expanded the tiered terraces toward the south, creating a protected, intimate dining space with garden views. Large, beautiful, solid wood doors warm the industrial look and add a layered tactility to the space.
Cutting Through the Challenges Working with a budget of £250,000 was a challenge, especially since Morecambe is a remote area with disproportionately high building costs. Lee saved money on the restroom design by using a simple, welded steel plate for the roof with no additional treatment. This allowed more funds to be diverted to architecturally significant areas, like the stainless steel signature silver of the café. Lee also contended with other challenges, including the location itself. Despite the support from representatives, there were significant concerns regarding the integration of a new structure and how it would affect the older buildings and the character of the town. And the design, with its complicated geometry, was difficult to visualize.
Using the high-quality 3D and rendering capabilities of Nemetschek Vectorworks, Inc.® Architect software to produce visualizations, the team built consensus among the council and the local community. When Arca changed the original material from rubber cladding to stainless steel, it was easy for all stakeholders to see the difference in the elevation drawings and approve the change. Lee’s team also typically works in 3D to better visualize their work, and this capability helped them understand the Silver Café’s more complicated geometry. “The ability to use a similar toolset for 3D work makes it easier for designers to use the 3D capabilities for communicating complex problems, or for more formal presentations,” he says. Arca uses CAD software for all of its projects, from initial inquiries and sketch layouts through planning, working drawings, and site operations, and is successfully making the switch to Building Information Modeling (BIM) in its current projects.
Alongside the grand old buildings that have stood by the seaside for a century, The Silver Café is an attraction in itself, thanks to Arca’s signature design.