The Old Spitalfields Market is located in the historic heart of East London, on a site that has had a market for over 350 years. The Victorian structure, built by Robert Horner in 1875 as a wholesale market, is now a popular fashion, arts and crafts, and food destination. The focus of a major restoration in the early 2000s, the new revamp of the market stalls and food units by Foster + Partners enhances the quality and reinforces the unique identity of one of London’s most vibrant and long standing covered markets.
Given the variety of products on offer, following a different theme each day of the week, the challenge was to offer a sense of coherence to the market stalls. They also needed to be flexible and versatile to display the diverse merchandise in a range of layouts. Designed as modular objects, the new stalls can be orientated and combined to suit different product displays. From over-the-counter to u-shaped configurations, with multiple racks and shelving, they are customisable by each retailer and set up for their individual needs. They incorporate storage at the base, also integrating electrical connections and lighting. In the evenings, they can be easily folded up and stored elsewhere if the space is required for events, or used as tables for informal drinks.
Materiality was an important consideration, and the design of the stalls is inspired by the original architecture of the old market, and the construction tools that were used at the time. The idea was to use solid materials that will withstand the daily rigors of the market, and those that will age well, gradually acquiring a rich patina over the years. The ash timber frames have a light appearance which will darken over time, while the hinge details, trims, hanging rail and accessories are made in brass, which develops a beautiful dark finish as the metal oxidises. There are also four larger anchor stalls with aluminium frames that have been placed specifically along the sightlines from the entry points into the market.
The market stalls are arranged around a central island containing ten new food units featuring a series of food start-ups. Made with a prefabricated modular steel frame, the food units have a neutral material palette that relates to the surroundings – the cracked tile interiors being reflective of the glazed Victorian bricks predominant in Spitalfields, and the base made from ash timber continuing the visual language of the market stalls. Each unit has full catering facilities with a large central extractor that filters the exhaust fumes through carbon filters and recycles clean air back into the market area.
The practice has also designed new benches and stools for the market with ash timber and a steel frame.