Structural consultantsPeter Grace, State University of New York at Buffalo; JEB Consultants, Grand Island, New York
Environmental energy consultantRoman Jakobiak, Berlin
Text description provided by the architects. With Café Fargo, we converted a formerly neglected corner store into a small coffee shop in a residential neighborhood of Buffalo, NY, USA. The former store, built in 1929, is a monolithic brick addition to the corner of a 3-story brick house built around 1880.
Typically, for a hospitality space, a large amount of the construction budget goes into mechanical systems that provide a uniform indoor climate throughout the year. With a tight budget, we took the opposite approach and transformed these invisible mechanical services into two experiential architectural elements that emphasize the distinct pleasures of summer and winter. We built:
-extra-large operable windows and skylights that provide natural ventilation and passive cooling, and
-a large-scale, wood burning Kachelofen (masonry heater) which serves as the radiant heat source for the space.
With these two low-tech and experientially rich elements, we eliminated the need for any ductwork and to kept the restored tin ceiling unobstructed.
Hardwick Hall (Derbyshire, 1590-97) stood as a case study for the project. This building features a dynamic inhabitation pattern, where occupation is constantly moving between large fireplaces in winter and large bay windows in summer. Similarly, we unfolded the space of Café Fargo between extra-large, operable sliding-folding windows at the perimeter wall for summer ventilation and a large-scale Kachelofen at the core of the space.
The space is structured in three bands, wrapping around the corner of the historic house. The innermost band consists of the large-scale Kachelofen, constructed as a long, horizontal, heated bench and a vertical tower. The tower also forms a spatial pocket that contains the bathroom. The Kachelofen is the largest in North America and was researched and developed in close collaboration with a local mason.
The outermost band consists of the large-scale folding-sliding windows with thick oak sills extended into benches. The habitable perimeter blurs the barrier between inside and outside; opened-up, the space feels like a covered outdoor patio.
The space between the windows and the stove provides an open area for ever-changing seating patterns. The lights are held-up on the old tin ceiling with magnets, allowing the lighting patterns to change and follow different seating arrangements throughout the year.
Because the space offers three different seating options at different heights – the window sills, the chairs and the stove bench – we designed a height-adjustable table. The tabletop, fixed to a tripod base with a threaded rod, is able to be spun like a piano stool up or down to adapt to the different seating heights.
Apart from the two added elements (heater and window), the renovation consisted mainly of stripping away the various floor, wall and ceiling surfaces that had accumulated over the years. We avoided any form of additional cladding, trimming or wall coverings. With this stripping-away approach, we made the space and its relationship to the older house, more legible.
The large, experiential elements – the windows and Kachelofen – offer users powerful physical relationships independent from any specific program, making it an alluring space for many more future uses.