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Vancouver designer Scott Cohen turns a brutalist glass-and-concrete space into a welcoming community hub.
A stunning new public park in downtown Vancouver was just gifted names in both hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh languages—it’s called sθәqәlxenәm ts’exwts’áxwi7, which means rainbow. It’s a fitting name for the bright, uplifting, and communal space, and it matches the vibe of the park’s resident coffee shop, too.
The Kafka’s coffee shop within the park was dreamed up by local designer Scott Cohen. “If you look at the building objectively, it’s very mute, minimal and brooding,” says Cohen. The commercial space’s basic components are two glass walls and one concrete wall—it’s a sharp triangle with a soaring ceiling. “It is a severe building, uncompromising in its form and austere in its materiality,” says the designer.
His task was to give the space a bit of the quirky style that one would expect from an independent business. To start, he’d fill the cavernous ceiling with a colourful plexiglass sculpture. The sculpture’s gemlike hues were inspired by a geode, like a rock being cracked open to reveal something beautiful inside. The sculpture is easy to spot through the building’s glass walls. “It’s kind of a billboard for the park, in a way,” says Cohen.
Beneath the sculpture, casual green vinyl banquette seating and tables made of reclaimed Douglas fir provide space for folks to caffeinate and chat. “The seating and the tables are very much in an earthly register,” says the designer, who chose the furniture to reflect the outdoors. When it came to wallcoverings, there wasn’t much room to play: “the interior walls of the pavilion are virtually all either floor-to-ceiling glass or exposed concrete,” notes the designer (and messing with the concrete was a Parks Board no-no). So instead, Cohen clad the back wall—one of the only spaces made of drywall–in a fantastical, dizzying mural of concentric circles. “We wanted to go for maximum optical impact,” explains Cohen, “and it’s a play on the effect of coffee as well.”
Mustard yellow versions of Marcel Breuer’s 1927 Cesca chair add another pop of colour to the space, making it all the more fitting for the rainbow that the park was named for. “There is no law that says all coffee shops need to be white spaces with reclaimed wood,” says Cohen. “For me, the most exciting aspect of the cafe overall is the rare opportunity to create a space that is public—even civic—in nature,” he continues, “and at the same time, highly specific, even subcultural.”