Since 2012, Australia’s Eat Drink Design Awards — organized by magazine publisher AGM Publishing and endorsed by the Australian Institute of Architects and the Design Institute of Australia — have been showcasing many of the most spectacular spaces in which flat whites, long blacks and all other manner of espresso and filter coffee drinks are served.
While the awards program covers numerous categories in food-and-drink-focused hospitality — including bars, temporary spaces, restaurants, retail and branding — the café category holds its own, displaying work that is ingeniously both a driver and a reflection of new trends in interior architecture, design and physical branding.
This year’s top winner in the café category is Melbourne’s Higher Ground, which was opened this past summer by the team behind The Kettle Black and Top Paddock, with coffee supplied by their joint brand, Square One Coffee Roasters.
In a 19th century power station building with 15-meter (49-foot) ceilings, multiple levels and mezzanines, the café holds seating for some 130 guests, and Eat Drink Design jurors praised the submitting firm DesignOffice for neglecting established hospitality design tropes while referring to the finished space as resembling an “urban drawing room:”
The resulting space is ambiguous in the way that a high-end hotel’s foyer can be ambiguous. The client refers to this as the ambition to create a “hotel without rooms,” and the desire to make something the likes of which Melbourne has not yet seen. The finished venue is remarkably comfortable and achieves this left-of-field ambition.
Higher Ground is located at 650 Little Bourke Street on the western edge of the Melbourne city grid.
Other “high commendation” recognition in the café design awards category went to Petition Kitchen (Perth), Second Home (Melbourne) and The Penny Drop (Box Hill, Melbourne), while 18 others made the shortlist.