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Pride of Spitalfields

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MacCormac Jamieson Prichard @ 30

A former brewery off Brick Lane in the East End of London has been the home of MJP since the partnership moved from Covent Garden in 1981. For me, a constituent aspect of working here is the vibrant locality with the rich earthy mix of cultures and proliferation of design studios, restaurants, bars and clubs.

Cross over from the City of London, the richest square mile, into Spitalfields and you find yourself in one of the poorest areas of the country. Unlike the City, Spitalfields has always been open to people wanting to get a toehold in society: immigrant communities, economic and political refugees, and the very poor. It is what sociologists call 'a zone of transition'.And since its earliest days as one of London's first industrial suburbs - probably since 1683 when Charles II granted a royal charter to sell 'fish, fowl and roots' to John Blanch, a silk throwster from Somerset - Spitalfields has been at the heart of this hospitable community.

In 1671, Christopher Wren came down to Spitalfields to inspect the scattering of houses which had sprung up along Brick Lane and was left with the impression that they were 'unacceptably farr from any church'. So in came his apprentice Nicholas Hawksmoor, and up went Christ Church, that grand soaring masterpiece of political assertion which stands at the top of Brushfield Street and to this day, overshadows the area.

Unfortunately, locals never really took Christ Church to their hearts. The religious history of the area is more accurately told by the building that stands at the other end of Fournier Street, the Neuve Eglise, built in 1743 as the Huguenot Church. It subsequently became a Methodist chapel, then a synagogue and is now the Brick Lane mosque. Like the joker in the pack, it is theologically wild, having been home to the world's three great monotheistic faiths. It has been taken up by each of the waves of immigrant communities passing through Spitalfields and has been rearranged to suit their own religious needs.

In 1987, the City Corporation put the site of Spitalfields market out to tender. A bill was lodged before parliament to release the City from the royal charter which had been granted three centuries before.

In 1989, the Spitalfields Development Group won the contract to 'develop' the market site, extending the City's global market east, sustained through computer terminals and the latest advances in information technology in a move to replace the market of barrows, produce and hard cash, a move which apparently could not be made within the existing market building.

Controversially, Richard MacCormac was involved in the original redevelopment proposals but resigned his commission when commercial imperatives threatened to compromise his design.

Now the bulldozers have moved in to flatten the west end of Spitalfields market in a move that will inevitably lead to the City casting an increasingly large shadow over the essentially hospitable East End, although there has been a recent stay of execution for Bishopsgate Goods Yard.

As architects operating in a commercial world, it has become increasingly difficult to resist unpalatable demands. While Richard MacCormac was ultimately unable to influence the future of the market he demonstrated a quality which he consistently reinforces: by all means give architecture your heart, but don't let it take your soul.

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