protagonist opens at arts centre melbourne

Arts Centre Melbourne’s dramatic new forecourt café and bar, Protagonist, designed by Cumulus Studio, will officially open to the public on Friday, November 15 2019.  Sitting beneath Arts Centre Melbourne’s spire and alongside popular St Kilda Road, the former pop-up coffee cart and then café Cento, has been transformed into an innovative and sophisticated venue.

Featuring ground-breaking architecture from Cumulus Studio, winners of Arts Centre Melbourne’s 2018 design competition, Protagonist is defined by striking architectural mesh. The café is enveloped by a distinctive bronze curtain of kaynemaile, a futuristic fire and UV resistant polycarbonate chainmail mesh originally developed as chainmail for the Lord of the Rings films. The recyclable polycarbonate was created by Lord of the Rings set designer Kayne Horsham who was practiced in the art of designing and creating chainmail during his work on the fantasy trilogy.

The design plays on the iconic and universally understood element of the theatre curtain as a device to signify ‘open’ and ‘closed’ and the uncovering or bringing out aspects of the theatre which are hidden behind the solid walls of the State Theatre. The adjustable exterior, inspired by theatre curtains, will be raised as the café opens in the morning and then lowered at night to signify the end of service.

Protagonist is wrapped by a chainmail curtain which physically opens and closes each day; inspired by the red curtain and fly tower within Arts Centre Melbourne’s theatres. The colour is a reference to the centre’s landmark spire,” says Cumulus Studio Director Keith Westbrook.

The structure is completely free-standing with concrete counterweights concealed within the plinth-like counter. Each side of the counter is utilised for different needs – café, ticketing, bar and seating area – and is clad with mirrored stainless steel to reflect the colours of the surrounding heritage paving.

Protagonist will feature a new menu created from the produce of local growers and suppliers, and inspired by a wide range of multicultural influences, including simple yet clever reinterpretations of the classic Australian toastie. The new café and bar will feature custom coffee blends and a new cocktail list inspired by Melbourne and its local distillers.

“We’re thrilled to present Protagonist, a new, dramatic and sophisticated addition to the experience at Arts Centre Melbourne. Protagonist combines local food, fantastic coffee and curated performances to create a truly Melbourne experience just below our iconic spire,” says Arts Centre Melbourne Executive Director, Customer Experience Beau Vigushin.

A visitor’s experience at Arts Centre Melbourne doesn’t begin and end when the curtain goes up or down. It starts from the moment they walk onto the forecourt and continues right through to the standing ovation. We want the community to have a cutting-edge meeting place to enjoy a coffee or perhaps a French martini while enjoying Melbourne’s thriving arts precinct, “says Arts Centre Melbourne Director, Customer Innovation, Frank Bischoff.

In April 2018, Cumulus Studio won Arts Centre Melbourne’s design competition to reimagine the beloved but ageing Cento, creating a unique and memorable food and beverage offer truly befitting the Melbourne coffee experience. The venue needed to welcome all, from passing workers and school kids to throngs of eager theatre goers, ballet students and performers. From its humble beginning as a portable coffee cart, Cento has served coffee on the Arts Centre Melbourne forecourt since 2000.

The design needed to fulfil the following criteria: a relationship between the café and Arts Centre Melbourne’s Theatres Building, a site of important heritage value, the forecourt being a key entry point for visitors and striking a balance between the need for Cento to have its own identity, while not competing with, challenging or obstructing views to the Theatres Building.

Protagonist will open Monday to Friday 7am until late and Saturday and Sunday 9am until late. For more information visit

Architects – Cumulus Studio
Build – Argall and Prime Build
Branding – Assembly