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Cafe is an Eye-opener; Future Systems' Selfridges is about to acquire a neighbour designed by another top firm of London architects, writes Terry Grimley.

Byline: Terry Grimley

The company that gave London its Eye is about to deliver a small jewel to Birmingham in the unusual shape of a sculpture that sells coffee.

Marks Barfield Architects, who conceived and designed London's hugely successful giant ferris wheel, have won a limited competition to design a small cafe for the terrace overlooking St Martin's church in the Bullring. As well as providing refreshment, the 'Spiral Cafe' forms part of the Bullring's public art programme.

The building was inspired by the work of Leonardo Pisano Fibonacci, a 13th century mathematician who identified natural patterns of growth found throughout the universe. Fibonacci's numerical sequence has resulted in a spiral form reminiscent of a nautilus sea-shell.

Project designer Ralph Parker said: 'We wanted something that would sit happily between the very commercial development of the Bullring and the spirituality of the church, which is very dominant in this square.

'So it seemed appropriate to use a natural order that was neither spiritual nor commercial. We have taken this graceful spiral and extruded it on a tilting axis towards the church.'

The building, covering a ground area of 60 square metres, will be constructed in steel with an external cladding of curved copper panels, which have a gently reflective quality. Inside, integral lighting will wash the smooth bronze internal surfaces to make the building 'shell' glow with light.

'It's a bit like a conch shell -quite rough on the outside and smooth on the inside,' explains Julia Barfield, who founded MSA with her husband David Marks ten years ago.

'We wanted to represent our conceptual ideas by having some kind of patina,' Ralph Parker adds. 'Untreated copper goes green in ten to 20 years, but we anticipate that because of the shape of the structure it will take place at a different rate on different parts of it.'

Structural engineers Price & Myers have played a leading role in realising the design, which featured in the Victoria & Albert Museum's exhibition on zoomorphic architecture last year.

It's not the first time that Marks Barfield have taken inspiration from natural forms.

'One of first bridges we did, for a competition to bridge the Grand canyon, was based on a dinosaur spine,' says Julia Barfield. 'It's not something we do all the time, but it pops up where it's appropriate.' Work on building the Spiral Cafe is expected to begin in May and be completed around the end of August.

David's fantastic new album, A Touch Of Blue, out now includes bonus greatest hits disc featuring Could It Be Forever, Cherish and I Think I Love You


Images of what the Spiral Cafe will look like at its site on the terrace overlooking St Martin's in the Bullring
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 26, 2004
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