Finalist 2020


Cumulus Studio / Arts Centre Melbourne

Protagonist uses unconventional materials and altering forms to engage with one of Australia’s most prominent arts precincts.

Protagonist is the result of a 2018 Arts Centre Melbourne architecture competition which challenged a selection of local studios to design a new home for the tired, existing ACM forecourt cafe.

The bronze-veiled Protagonist uses unconventional materials and altering forms to engage with one of Australia’s most prominent arts precincts.

Design Excellence

As a temporary structure with a five year lifecycle, Protagonist provided a rare opportunity to experiment with new ways of activating public space.

The new cafe, bar and ticket booth features an adjustable polycarbonate mesh exterior reminiscent of rising theatre curtains. Beneath the curtain lies a polished stainless steel base, used to reflect the heritage listed tiled pavement and reduce the visual impact of the new structure.

Despite it’s semi-temporary construction, Protagonist feels at home among the grand buildings of St Kilda Road, with key references in form and palette to the ACM spire and the bronze NGV roof.

Design Impact

While temporary in its existing location, Protagonist was not designed with demolition and disposal in mind. In an attempt to resolve the environmental impacts associated with temporary construction, the building was designed to allow for functional disassembly and reconstruction in a new location.

As a business, Protagonist was intended to serve more than just Arts Centre patrons. It has been thoughtfully positioned to engage tourists, workers and design enthusiasts making their way to and from Flinders Street station. Once closed, Protagonist continues to activate the ACM forecourt with the Kaynemaile facade transforming into an intriguing light installation upon nightfall.

Design Transformation

Protagonist offers a new visitor experience with a direct connection to the established Arts Centre brand – something that was severely lacking within the cafe’s previous iteration (a drab plastic gazebo).

Opting for camouflage over competition, Cumulus Studio have created a single statement that responds, although is of a completely different scale, to its surroundings. The materiality expresses a lightness which reflects its temporary nature and creates separation from the heavy masonry of the permanent public buildings.

Protagonist adds both function and visual delight within a concentrated hub of celebrated Australian design.

Design Innovation

While the screen colour is a direct reference to the ACM tower, the material itself is something less familiar. Kaynemaile, a polycarbonate mesh, is a secure, fire and UV resistant product originally developed as chainmail for the Lord of the Rings movie costumes. The Kaynemaile provides weather protection for the cafe, welcomes dappled light within the interior and allows for natural airflow, while creating a singular and cohesive design form that discretely hides building services.

Once lowered, the Kaynemaile exterior can be used for the projection of digital art, short movies and marketing of upcoming ACM events.

Client Statement

“Protagonist has created a statement on the forecourt of Arts Centre Melbourne. It has led the ACM Reimagining Project in giving the public and staff members a taste of all the many exciting things to come. Protagonist is constantly attracting new crowds and generating conversation with its unusual and unique design and finishes. It has become a regular meeting spot for all staff members, as well as neighbouring businesses and locals. The outlet staff can now work more freely and collaboratively, as well as enjoy the new facilities within.”

— Lena Weir, ACM Project Manager

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