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Smithfield overhaul: Cabe finds fault with public spaces

Cabe at the Design Council has become the latest body to raise concerns over John McAslan + Partners’ contentious plans for Smithfield’s Market in London

Although the design watchdog generally welcomed the ‘bold, yet respectful scheme’ for the historic market, its review panel highlighted a number of issues and said the proposal ‘could be improved by further consideration of the relationship between the retained elements [of the site] and the internal public spaces.’

In recent days both conservation campaigners SAVE Britain’s Heritage and the Victorian Society have made public statements against the retail and office-led scheme and have attacked English Heritage for supporting the plans which would see some of the existing fabric demolished (see AJ 16.04.2013).

Now, in a formal response to the City of London’s planning department, Cabe has also voiced its fears about the scheme singling out the proposals for the covered square.

The report reads: ‘While new elements of the external fabric are clearly legible and should contribute positively to the character of the area, we think that the approach taken to the covered square is less successful in this regard.’

McAslan_Smithfield_Quarter___Internal

‘The proposal to re-use existing columns and trusses within this space is commendable. However, the proposed vaulted brick ceiling in this space could mistakenly be read as part of the original fabric, taking away from the appreciation of the retained historic features.’

Cabe was also worried that the practice’s renderings of the development plans (pictured) may not accurately depict how the finished building would look: ‘While the photomontage of the space is enticing, we have some concerns that the new space lacks generosity compared to the scale of the former market and, in reality, will be less welcoming than the image suggests.’

However, there was also some praise for McAslan’s proposals for the Victorian market site.

The report reads: ‘We enjoy the idiosyncratic, London character of this project, integrating large scale office floor plates into the historic grain while preserving the existing buildings. Having worked with a complex group of stakeholders to arrive at an approach to developing this sensitive site, we think the design team has produced a bold, yet respectful scheme.’

As well as generally approving the ‘well-mannered and comfortably proportioned buildings’, the report supported the choice of materials, which the report said would ‘contribute positively and legibly to the existing buildings and conservation area, at both an urban and detailed scale’, but added: ‘The success of this approach relies on careful detailing of the facades, which should be conditioned appropriately’.

Highlighting the impact of the new Crossrail station being constructed nearby, Cabe praised the decision to open up a new entrance to the site from Farringdon Street as an ‘astute move’. 

The report also welcomed the proposals for roof gardens on the third, fourth and fifth levels of the office building, but added: ‘the local planning authority should condition these spaces, alongside those at ground level, to ensure that the intentions set out in the planning submission will be realised in the finished scheme.

Paul Finch, deputy chair of the Design Council, said: ‘This design is a welcome example of a new attitude to the existing, where substantial new space is required, but where essential elements of previous architectural history are kept. This approach is likely to continue and can give useful design impetus to hybrid futures.’ 

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