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AJ Exclusive: John McAslan's Smithfield overhaul plans revealed

The AJ can exclusively reveal the latest proposals for the contentious redevelopment of Smithfield market in London

Architect John McAslan + Partners has been working with current owners Henderson Global Investors on the retail and office-led plans for the General Market, Fish Market and Red House buildings since summer 2010 and will officially present its designs to the public next week (19 October).

A previous, highly controversial proposal for the historic site drawn up by KPF, which would have seen much of the existing Victorian buildings flattened, was famously rejected by Communities Secretary Hazel Blears in August 2008 following a four-year battle. Despite approval from the City of London planners, the minister blocked the plans for a massive commercial development claiming they would ‘cause harm to the character and appearance of the conservation area and the setting of listed buildings’.

KPF's ditched Smithfield plans (2008)

KPF’s ditched Smithfield plans (2008)

In late 2008 developer Thornfield turned to McAslan to come up with more sensitive designs - but the project was again thrown into doubt when Thornfield Ventures went into administration in January 2010 (see AJ 08.01.2010).

The plot was subsequently picked up by Henderson Global Investors. The all new scheme will, the developers claim, ‘preserve the historic identity of the market buildings through the retention, restoration and reuse of the most significant parts of the historic buildings while bringing much-needed new investment and active, informal uses to West Smithfield and the Farringdon area in the City of London.’

Kevin Lloyd, of John McAslan + Partners, said: ‘The scheme is of a scale which balances the character and setting of the historic market, with a high quality and complementary contemporary development.’

Project description:

‘The ground floors of the General Market, the Fish Market, the Red House and the old engine house will be put into reuse for restaurant and retail uses for local residents, workers, visitors and tourists, following extensive refurbishment and some adaption. The space will include a two part piazza (part external and part internal) within the General Market building and will be arranged to provide much needed vibrant and visually attractive activity to the neighbouring streets of all the buildings, as well as an internal focus to the ground floors of the general market and annexe, reopening the buildings to public use along a through route from Harts Corner to West Smithfield and then on to Snow Hill. The majority of the Victorian perimeter of the General Market, and the entirety of the Fish market and the old engine house, will be retained and receive much needed extensive restoration and refurbishment.
‘The existing buildings will be enhanced with the sensitive inclusion of new low rise pavilions of office space to the central area of the General Market that will be arranged above the generously proportioned retail space set back from, and framed by, the retained Victorian buildings creating a curtilage on three sides.
‘In the Annex Building, the ground floor will comprise restaurant and retail units located within the retained and restored Fish Market arranged on either side of the existing passage. The underwhelming and out of context 1960’s storage area that currently sits between the Red House and the old Fish market will be replaced with new office space arranged over six upper floors that will be “contained” by the retained and restored Victorian perimeter walls of the Red House and by the newly restored Fish Market.
‘The former engine house will also accommodate a small retail unit on the ground floor within the restored façade, with half a storey of plant on the roof with louvre surrounds.
‘The design offers the sensitive integration of new space with the restored historic elements of the Victorian buildings that creates a complimentary and positive dialogue between the two.
‘The proposed development has very good existing transport links and is easily accessible through a number of underground, rail and bus links and is located within very close proximity to a wide range of local amenities. The nearby CrossRail station at Farringdon will open in 2018.  Motorcycle and cycle parking and changing facilities will be provided.

The existing Smithfield market buildings

The existing Smithfield market buildings

Kevin Lloyd, of John McAslan + Partners, said:

“We are delighted to be working with Henderson to deliver their vision for Smithfield Quarter, in one of the City’s most vibrant urban areas. The scheme is of a scale which balances the character and setting of the historic market, with a high quality and complementary contemporary development.”

Readers' comments (3)

  • Badly hidden office blocks squatting behind the undistinguished remnants of a Victorian market.

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  • Oh dear, one week's notice for a half-day "consultation" with just a comment box here http://bit.ly/To7FRT A good way to elicit objections. I've posted:
    "I've just found out, via a neighbour, about the exhibition on October 19. It sounds like an interesting project, but I am unable to attend then, and I suspect many others in the area either don't know about it or won't be able to make it.

    "There is considerable sensitivity in the Smithfield area about the entirely inadequate engagement process managed by another developer around Bartholomew Close and Little Britain. I fear you are about to try the same thing with a very time-limited "consultation" display, paralleled by detailed discussions and designs that are then unveiled further down the the line when people's views cannot easily be taken into account.

    "As a result you may start off your development planning process entirely on the wrong foot. Adequate consultation is a process that has to go well beyond an inadequately advertised exhibition of a few hours, and a website comment box. Otherwise people are likely to get cross, and after that it is difficult to regain their trust. I believe an earlier scheme failed in part because of substantial public objections. I hope in this case you will rethink how to engage both with your neighbours and wider London interests, so that there is a sensible review of the pros and cons of the scheme".

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  • The General market facades are no great work of Architecture, but they are important in maintaining the unity of character of the “island” of market halls between Farringdon Road at this end and Lindsey St at the other. Most of them by the hand of Horace Jones. This uniform rectangular “superblock” is the ground against which the crumble-townscape of the area anchors itself. The large halls in the block centres are so vast in total that no romantic restoration could fill them with tenants like a Covent Garden or Leadenhall (both tiny by comparison. The Central Market alone is 3 acres in plan). The City has always wanted to get rid of the central market completely, and as the area gentrifies it becomes increasingly incongruous to bring dozens of artics with meat from Aberdeen into the city centre every night. So some foresight is needed if the much more magnificent main market building is to have a sympathetic re-use for its hall in the future rather than it all being taken up by the halls up for renewal now. It has a far more worthy hall hidden in its heart than the General Market.
    So you either retain in one style, or take the lot down and build a new superblock all in one style. But that could never possess the richness of the current enfilade of buildings with its layering and palimpsest gained in its 150 year life. Nor could it happen.
    And you still have to find a use for the core of the buildings.
    The General Market’s central hall is the week sibling, so no great loss.
    McAslan’s scheme is an ingenious play on a “lantern” theme that generates a narrow alley loop behind the façade buildings, with a “lantern” of offices above mimicking the monitor rooflights of market halls. It’s a pity the centre isn’t filled in behind this alley, compressing and intensifying this interesting alley space, rather than leaving it open with a faux brick relieving arch ceiling under a blatantly contemporary building. Rather incongruous. It’s also a pity they have seen necessary, or more likely been encouraged by timid planning, to incongruously step the lantern skyline. It would be much better as a singular bold level topped block, rising relatively as the surroundings drop, to announce the Superblock it crowns; rather than whimpering down to Farringdon Road like a puppy with its tail between its legs. Cities can have one scale at street level relative to those spaces, and a greater scale for the skyline, rising from a set back behind a street parapet, as New York proves. Compounding this weakness, the exposed flanks of the cores do not sit well when revealed. They would be more comfortable thus concealed.
    The main lost opportunity is the removal of the Market Superintendent’s office tower on the corner of Farringdon Road and Charterhouse St, to create a developers naive idea of an inviting view in. The loss of the tower should be resisted. It’s needed as one of a family that sign most of the other main corners of the superblock. Its loss is a (townscape) denial of the corner. Also, the new “lanterns” should be seen over a building, as a backdrop. They could go higher than the tower (like the slab blocks behind St Patricks Cathedral in New York). They are too simple to be successful as the landmark corner feature in the low level vista. A far better solution would be to authentically restore the corner intact, but with a completely abstract and massive rectangular chunk including structure removed at ground and possibly first floor level, running back from each corner, like Hertzog and de Meuron did in their Caixa Forum in Madrid.
    http://www.dezeen.com/2008/05/22/caixaforum-madrid-by-herzog-de-meuron/
    Perhaps this could even use ramps to access basement and ground levels simultaneously, again as Hertzog de Meuron. The new top on the Caixa Forum also foretells this new top on Smithfield, but without the compromise.
    SAVE would do better to campaign with a real future vision, not their currently intellectually impoverished protest that seems stuck on treatment of façade artefacts and to simply object to change for changes sake, because of a lack of visionaries in their ranks.

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