Cats, caffeine, and cool vibes a-plenty? It may seem impossible, but when tasked with the brief of transforming a historic two-story brick building in the heart of Buffalo’s Lower West Side into a cat café, inventive local architectural studio Davidson Rafailidis stepped up to the plate. Known for their projects that blend creative design choices with communal accessibility (see some of their past work here), the firm faced a a unique challenge this time around: namely, how to artfully craft a space that would work for both cats and humans.
Because there are strict regulations regarding the separation of food preparation spaces and animals, the architectural duo had to get creative, answering the call in their typical cool style.
Though the project, dubbed “Together Apart,” was completed pre-pandemic, its opening was effected by lockdown and all the ensuing guidelines, and its layout proved to be essential to its success. The space’s design allowed it to function as an animal shelter and cat adoption facility as well as a café, supporting each other and coexisting beneficially for both the local community and its inhabitants.
This is ultimately the goal for the space and its surrounding areas, with Buckminster’s Together Apart Cat Café being only the first stage in construction on the surrounding lot (itself an area zoned by the city to encourage mixed-use communal spaces). The café, despite its necessary divisions, makes use of its space in creative and unexpected ways that could also accommodate other activities. As Davidson Rafaildis co-principal Stephanie Davidson explains, “We are interested in connecting activities that are otherwise problematic to come together.” In this case, cats and caffeine.
To accomplish this, the pair made the space accessible from either end, allowing for the two halves to operate independently while still adhering to local health code regulations. Of course, the two are still connected via “many sliced, mismatched, misaligned, and mirrored elements in the space,” according to Davidson.
The spaces meet in the center with an overlap area that’s cleverly integrated into the overarching design scheme. Transparent partitions and a full-fledged glass wall encourage connectivity and the chance to encounter the café’s feline residents, while the “human” space is lined with benches for visitors who want to enjoy a hot cup of joe.
Though the color palette here is neutral, it serves as the perfect backdrop for all the zigs and zags of the partitions and clever architectural details. The whole effect encourages a sense of continuity within the space despite its physical separations; though distinct halves of the same whole, one never feels that far away from a furry friend or two. The café’a rear area, where the “catio” is located, contains a nine-foot-tall masonry wall ideal for supporting a possible second floor in the future, if necessary.
Thanks to the city’s new zoning ordinances, lots of projects that creatively fulfill multi-use spatial needs are now on the horizon — and Davidson Rafailidis will almost certainly have a hand in developing them. With their eye for blurring the line between the indoors and outdoors and creating community-driven spaces, the possibilities are endless. As Davidson says, “The richness in how spaces might be shared, and how different programs could co-exist with a lot of density and visibility, is really exciting to us.” Until then, residents will have to be content with the Together Apart Cat Café: great news for feline fans and coffee connoisseurs in this historic Buffalo neighborhood.