Davidson and Rafailidis Earn Top Canadian Design Award for 'Cafe Fargo'

Café Fargo

An adaptive reuse design for a cafe on Buffalo's Lower West Side has earned architecture faculty members Stephanie Davidson and Georg Rafailidis recognition from Canadian Interiors magazine.  Photo by Florian Holzherr

Published December 14, 2015

A café in Buffalo designed by UB architects Stephanie Davidson and Georg Rafailidis as an architectural experiment in non-mechanical heating and cooling has been recognized with a “Best of Canada Design” citation by Canadian Interiors magazine.

Davidson’s and Rafailidis’ adaptive re-use project, which recently opened as Tipico Coffee on Fargo Avenue on Buffalo’s Lower West Side, was singled out for its use of temperature and climate as a spatial feature. The space eliminates the need for mechanical heating and cooling through natural ventilation systems and a specially engineered wood-burning oven.

According to the architects: “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.”

The cozy 880-square-foot space, a former corner store in a residential neighborhood, is distinguished by the extra-large operable windows punched into its early 20th century monolithic brick façade. Those windows work with operable skylights in the summer to create natural ventilation and passive cooling.

Café Fargo's masonry heater

The cafe's Kachelofen, a specially engineered masonry oven, heats the space using just six to 10 logs a day. Its 15-foot-long ornamental chamber also doubles as extra-cozy seating. Photo by Florian Holzherr

In the winter, a large-scale, wood burning Kachelofen (masonry heater) serves as a radiant heat source. The device, which doubles as seating, can heat the space for an entire day using six to ten logs.  

Indeed, the entire establishment is functionally and aesthetically tied to the weather. When the mercury drops, tables and chairs move inward, away from windows and toward the giant masonry heater. Overhead lamps that hang from a tin ceiling via magnets follow the furniture.

The shifting arrangement has a message, say Davidson and Rafailidis, architecture faculty members in UB’s School of Architecture and Planning and principals of the practice Davidson Rafailidis, which completed the project.

“When you come into this café, you suddenly experience something you never think about — you’re intimately engaged with the heating and cooling systems,” says Rafailidis. “These mechanisms are usually hidden, but in our design, we bring them out.”

The café’s masonry heater is the result of two years of careful research and testing, which Davidson and Rafailidis pursued in partnership with Empire Masonry Heaters in Rochester, New York. The flue chamber’s carefully chosen materials – refractory cement clad with intricately patterned cement tiles – allow the flue to absorb the fire’s heat and release it over a long period of time. The 15-foot-long ornamental chamber also serves as a bench, keeping café customers extra warm in the winter.

Award plaque

The “Best of Canada Design” competition is the country’s only design competition to focus on interior design projects and products without regard to size, budget or location. “Café Fargo” was among 175 entries blind-reviewed by a jury of leading Canadian designers: Lars Dressler (Brothers Dressler, Toronto), Tom Balaban (Thomas Balaban Architect, Montreal), Caroline Robbie (Quadrangle Architects, Toronto), and Matthew Searle (Searle and Company, Toronto). The project was praised for its use of temperature and climate as a spatial feature.

Café Fargo interior

Photo by Florian Holzherr