Coffee & Creativity

Did you read this article in the New York Times last month about the trend in coffee houses toward discouraging lingering? In the article author Oliver Strand is particularly interested in what looks to be a decline in café-as-workplace. Well of course this all reminded me of my thesis, which was all about how people stake out creative working space in public, including cafés. I spent a great deal of time in my second-to-last semester of architecture school (when the written part of the thesis happens) sitting in cafés myself (as well as libraries, parks, the architecture studios, and even the American Academy in Rome), writing my thesis, thinking about creative work and the ideal place for it.

Maybe some other time I’ll tell you more about that, but for now a few words on the in-and-out coffee bar trend. In the article seatless coffee bars (like the Stumptown digs in the Ace Hotel) are compared to Italian espresso bars. Well, in my limited experience, yes and no. Italian espresso bars have universally fantastic coffee, often have a very working-class feel, and are somehow convey the feeling that it’s fine if you want to gulp and run, but it’s also fine if you want to stand around and chat with the policeman on your left or the professor on your right. Partly they manage this trick by being more ubiquitous and better integrated into the life of their surrounding neighborhoods than most (though happily not all) of their American cousins. I think in the US bars have historically been more in that great-good place role, though coffee houses could certainly catch up in many places. To do that, a look at how the best bars work and a look at coffee bars in many places in Europe, is the way to go.

It’s a tricky balance, keeping enough turnover to maintain profitability while making a place welcoming. And none of that matters if the coffee is crap. Much of that (besides the quality of the coffee) is a question of design: materials, proportion, light all speak to us about the expectations and functions of a place. What does your local coffee bar say to you?



This entry was posted on Sunday, September 19th, 2010 and is filed under urbanism. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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