Co.Design

In The Olympic Aftermath, A Colorful Cafe Stands Tall

The Movement Cafe defies every cliche about Olympic development.

When we talk about the urban impact of the Olympics, we tend to focus on the grim economic outlook for host cities who build too much, too big, and too fast at the behest of the Olympic Committee. London may be stuck dealing with dozens of vacant venues for years, but there is also the occasional silver lining. To wit: the Movement Cafe, a temporary tea stop and performance space for local artists, situated at the gateway to the Olympic development site.

The Movement is a collaboration between designer Morag Myerscough and Olympic poet (and prolific tweeter) Lemn Sissay. It was built in just 16 days--"from a hole in the ground," says Myerscough--thanks to the framework of shipping containers that make up its structural skeleton. The plywood-clad spaces inside host a small cafe selling locally sourced fare (including homemade ice cream), plus a performance area, where nightly readings and shows will continue into December.

"I have an obsession with 3-D type at the moment and knew it was what I wanted to use on this project," Myerscough tells Co.Design over email. "It had the right voice." The cafe looks larger than it is, thanks to a crown of scaffolding erected to support a series of plywood signs. Each board, hand-painted in eye-popping neons by Myerscough’s three-person (and a dog) team, contains a snippet of a poem by Sissay:

This is the House.
This is the Path.
This is the Gate.
This is the Opening.
This is the Morning.
This is a Person Passing.
This is Eye Contact.

In the outdoor area, handmade stools and pillows Myerscough and artist Luke Morgan (both members of London design collective Supergroup) are covered in other Sissay quotes. Weekly performances by local poets, musicians, and DJs animate the space at night--you’re welcome to bring your own booze (for a £3 corking fee).

The whole thing seems very civilized: come hang out, have a cup of tea (or champagne), and read a bit. The cafe is run by the Greenwich Co-Operative Development Agency, a 30-year-old nonprofit that supports “alternative businesses” and social entrepreneurship in London’s low-income neighborhoods.

The cafe proves a simple point. Olympic development and locally sourced entrepreneurship aren’t mutually exclusive. Here, they’ve formed a symbiotic relationship. Unfortunately, the cafe is only temporary. After Christmas, it’ll be razed to make way for a permanent mixed-use development. But something of it will remain--one of SIssay’s poems, this one about Greenwich’s industrial past, will be permanently etched into the sidewalk.

[H/t It’s Nice That]

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