davidson rafailidis architects convert corner store into café fargo
all images © florian holzherr




café fargo by davidson rafailidis architecture, converts a formerly neglected corner store into a small coffee shop in residential buffalo, new york, USA. the original corner store, built in 1929, is a monolithic brick addition to the corner of a 3-story house built around 1880.


working with a tight budget, and to avoid the large amount of construction cost associated with climate control systems, the studio decided to make these systems an integral part of the space. during warm months, extra-large operable windows and skylights open the space to provide natural ventilation and passive cooling. for winter months, a large-scale wood burning kachelofen (masonry heater) provides a radiant heat source. using these low-tech and experientially rich elements, they are able to eliminate the need, and cost, of any ductwork while leaving the restored tin ceiling unobstructed.

the space between the windows and the stove provides an open seating area for ever-changing seating patterns


the kachelofen is the largest in north america and was developed in close collaboration with a local mason


the heater wraps around the interior corner where café patrons can huddle against the radiant cement surfaces


the tower also forms a spatial pocket that contains the bathroom




café fargo features a dynamic inhabitation pattern, where occupation is constantly moving based on the needs of the customers. the café is structured in three bands. the innermost band consists of the kachelofen, which is constructed as a long, horizontal bench and a vertical tower. the tower, which forms a spatial pocket, contains the bathroom. opposite, the outermost band includes the large sliding windows, with thick oak sills extended into benches. by blurring the barrier between interior and exterior the area feels like a covered patio. the third band contains the space between, providing an open seating area for ever-changing seating patterns. the custom designed lights are held-up on the restored tin ceiling with magnets, and allow for the lighting patterns to adapt as seating arrangements migrate by season.

the low-tech kachelofen drastically reduced the construction budget by eliminating the need for air ducts




to aid in the transition of seating, the ‘team’ designed a height-adjustable table. the tabletop, fixed to a tripod base with a threaded rod is spun in either direction, raising or lowering the height. 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, until we reached a surface with material integrity. we avoided any form of additional cladding, trimming or wall coverings. as elements were stripped away, the space and its relationship to the older house, became more legible. the large, experiential elements offer users powerful physical relationships independent from any specific program, making it an alluring space for many future affordances.


the floor plan moves towards the stove in winter, and the windows in summer

height-adjustable tables change, like the floor plan, to create a fluid transition between seating arrangements



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