A daily bulletin of news & opinion

19 February 2010

From Oman to the Netherlands architects are creating markets for the 21st century as urban planners realise that they offer a retail and social model that people like (as long as the rubbish crates arrive at the end of the day to clear away the soggy lettuces).

In the Netherlands work is under way on Rotterdam’s new 100,000 sq m market, an ambitious €175m mixed-use project that’s being developed by Provast. Due to be completed in 2014, the design by Dutch practice MVRDV features a building in the shape of a giant arch. This will hold 228 apartments and beneath it will be the large market hall, shops and restaurants (there will also be a car park and underground supermarket). The market is part of a bigger effort to regenerate Rotterdam’s post-war centre. With its eye-catching silhouette, it seems the new market is destined to become a landmark too.

Taking a more subtle approach in Oman is Snøhetta’s design for a 3,500 sq m fish market in Masqat. Based in Oslo, Snøhetta has created an open, transparent blueprint. Hugging the harbour of Matrah, the design features an elegant building inspired by the curve of the bay and surrounding mountains. Walls will be made from stone and there will be plenty of public spaces and natural daylight. Providing shade is a sweeping canopied aluminium roof inspired by Arabic calligraphy. The building will replace an existing structure. The aim is to improve working conditions for the fishermen but also boost local business – snap-happy tourists already regularly frequent the market.

Inside, the layout is thoughtful: the stands will be arranged according to how the fishermen already hawk their catches. There will also be a new seafood restaurant. “There is a local, authentic life here. We have to protect that. In Oman they are very aware of their own traditions. We are trying to reflect their local tradition and identity, while also introducing a modern touch. This design is a mix between a fish market and a public plaza – it will create a new meeting point,” says Marianne Sætre, an architect at Snøhetta. Still in the detailed design phase, construction is expected to begin this summer.

Over in Osaka, Japanese architect Tsuyoshi Kawata is hoping to revive an old ceramics market with a small-scale, sensitive design for the very same street that once played host to a thriving bazaar 300 years ago. The layout is clever and intriguing – six buildings made from wood and mud will be slotted onto the street, interconnected by courtyards and bridges. It will be completed by 2012.

But just how necessary is architecture to markets? Kamal Mouzawak, creator of Beirut’s first farmers’ market, cites New York’s Union Square market, and the pop-up markets of Paris and London as successful markets “being done in open spaces. They are not built, they are set in streets”. He cautions against any kind of design beyond the most humble of interventions. “The market is not architecture – it is an activity. We should not transform markets into shopping malls,” he warns.


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