Three architectural London cafés are leading the way in merging coffee and community. These spots offer much more than caffeine and cake. Instead, they also combine art, workspace and, importantly, a passion for empowering communities. Strongly design-led, either architect-owned or informed by a defining architectural vision, these cafés transform their genre, reaching far beyond the confines of hospitality and aiming for positive change. They provide safe spaces, support communities, challenge norms and strive to make their neighbourhoods better places to live. Let’s step inside for a hot brew... 

A new wave of architectural London cafés

Corner Coffee, New Cross 

the corner cafe in new cross
Photography: David M Christian

Corner café is the brainchild of Tarek Merlin, director and co-founder of architecture studio Feix&Merlin, and his partner Mark. Conceived as a coffee shop and creative space and situated in vibrant New Cross in south London, Corner aims to be both your friendly neighbourhood coffee shop, and a welcoming hub to foster culture and community. As an LGBTQ+-led business with an art space, as well as the expected hot beverages and cake offerings, this aims to be a space that makes a difference. ‘We are passionate about equality, diversity and inclusion, and we wanted this to be reflected in our approach and the way we present ourselves to the community – a welcoming space open to everyone,’ say the two founders. ‘It was really important for us to visibly show our support for the LGBTQ+ community, so we chose to add the LGBTQ+ letters to the windows, as a proud statement about inclusivity as you enter.’

Nourish hub, Hammersmith 

inside nourish hub in Hammersmith
Photography: Francisco Ibáñez Hantke

Nourish Hub is a slightly different proposition. Hoping to tackle food insecurity as well as support the local community, architects RCKa and charity UKHarvest teamed up to launch this space, as a new community kitchen, education space and local business on the Edward Woods Estate in Hammersmith. Nourish Hub is centrally located, occupying the site of a former vacant supermarket on the high street. A series of community engagement projects played a key role in informing the interior design, which blends functionality with vibrant colour and strong graphic patterns that make the space pop. ’From the outset, the team sought to create opportunities for learning and to empower residents to take ownership of the space. This is UKHarvest’s first permanent space, but the design draws on years of experience in food education. Getting people through the door is the first challenge, so the Hub had to seem open and welcoming to the entire community. We look forward to watching local people coalesce around this project, proving that food is truly one of the key things that bind us together,’ says RCKa director Dieter Kleiner. 

The Common E2, Bethnal Green

common ground cafe in e2
Photography: Sam Harris

Another architect-owned business, The Common E2, situated a stone’s throw from Bethnal Green station, is a sister company to local studio Common Ground Workshop. Operating as a mixed-use, friendly and flexible space, The Common E2 is at once a café, art hub, architecture studio and co-working facility. Originally envisioned by founder Mark Sciberras, this multifunctional spot caters to several community needs, providing a valued place for gatherings and encounters. The space is constantly evolving, offering a rotating programme of shows, and is frequented by industry leaders in the area and beyond. ’We are about putting people at the heart of our design process and harnessing the possibilities that arise from mixing up the status quo. We believe that this open and inclusive public-private ecosystem challenges conventional norms of siloed workspace and encourages broad and meaningful participation,’ says Sciberras. 

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