“Smithfield Quarter” Plans Revealed

Full details of a plan to redevelop the derelict western buildings in Smithfield Market into a restaurant and retail space, alongside new offices, have been released.

Rebranded, inevitably, as “Smithfield Quarter”, the £160m development, by the architect John McAslan + Partners (who recently completed the well-received new concourse at King’s Cross station) proposes turning the fish market, poultry market and general market, which sit at the western end of Smithfield and have been disused for a number of years, into boutique shops and restaurants. The plan also introduces a series of 20m high office buildings within the market’s existing footprint.

Built in the 19th century by Horace Jones (who counted Leadenhall and Billingsgate markets, along with Tower Bridge, on his resume) Smithfield has long been under threat. While the meat market still operates, the three disused buildings have led a perilous existence; then-communities secretary Hazel Blears rescued them in 2008, nixing a particularly hideous office development that would have seen them demolished. Yet the new designs have also proved unpopular. Save Britain’s Heritage is fighting against the development, describing it as “[playing] fast and loose with the building’s historic glass roofed market halls” and offering merely “a nod towards conservation”.

We can see their point. Compared with Covent Garden, which was sensitively restored in the 1970s and still retains much of the charm of its fruit and veg-selling past, the clinical designs above could be located anywhere, and have nothing of buildings’ faded but palpable grandeur. That such an uninspired design comes from McAslan, whose firm  has experience in this field, is particularly disappointing: their redevelopment of the 19th-century Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, for example, was widely praised for marrying the old with the new.

In these pages we’ve long argued that what the area needs isn’t another paean to commerce and business, but a new cultural hub celebrating the Smithfield’s long and pungent history. That doesn’t seem likely now, particularly when the area is becoming a key transport nexus: a few years from now it’ll be where Crossrail and Thameslink meet, and property developers are circling. But Smithfield deserves better than the uninspiring vision dreamed up thus far.

See LiamCH’s series of photographs taken in and around Smithfield Market

 Photo of General Market by dartar

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  • http://www.christianmeyer.net Christian

    It’s about time this site gets developed.

  • TimW

    Good piece Dean, and I totally agree. The area needs work, but not this. And the meat market can’t hold out indefinitely either…

  • http://twitter.com/jonnelledge Jonn Elledge

    I just wish they’d do something with the site. It’s been derelict as long as I can remember – considering its location that’s mental.

  • MattFromLondonist

    Presumably it needs the towers of office space to make the development profitable for the developer. Without them, the development would be loss-making, and therefore of no interest to any investor. Rescuing the area with cash from heritage sources also seems unlikely, as it’s a large site with buildings of only moderate historical interest (when set in priority order with the many other crumbling buildings of greater antiquity competing for scarce heritage funds). Can anyone think of a third way? As Dean mentions, some kind of cultural centre, playing on the area’s exceptional (even for central London) history, might be one way…but with other major attractions like St Paul’s and Museum of London just a stone’s throw away, it’d have to shout loud to get the footfall.

    That first image looks like a total clone of Spitalfields, BTW.

    • http://londonist.com/ Dean Nicholas

      There was a commenter on Olly Wainwright’s piece about Smithfield for the Guardian a few months back who suggested turning it into a tech hub. Could be one option. But unless Google or whomever were to bankroll it I doubt it would happen.

      • http://twitter.com/jonnelledge Jonn Elledge

        Google are moving into King’s Cross, aren’t they?

        • http://londonist.com/ Dean Nicholas

          Yes, but I didn’t mean Google moving to Smithfield, I meant something like the “Google Campus” they’ve set up near Old Street roundabout.

    • HHGeek

      The comparison with Spitalfields is depressingly valid. Walking up Commercial St towards the latter used to be a pleasure, but is now destroyed by the monstrosity looming behind it. At least here you don’t have the character of the area to be destroyed, unlike in the East End.

      If there must be a deposit behind the original Smithfield, could it not at least be pure glass designed to try and melt into the sky, rather than detract from the brick? There’s also – as you say in the linked article – the option for use of the subterranean areas. For subsidy of the interesting & historic elements, someone could put in the mutha of all spa facilities (incl. a decent sized pool) for starters.

      NB: there are too many tall buildings being erected in the City, given the narrowness of many streets. The air is being lost.

  • Kay

    Quite shameful that most the unique and beautiful London structures always get converted into offices+retail space. How boring. What can’t it be converted into an open cultural space for music, art, theatre, like the Southbank for example? What about benefiting the locals with an education centre or something along those lines. Nothing against retail, but something as iconic as Smithfields deserves better, the building is incredible!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/ron.arnold.313 Ron Arnold

    This and the Fruit and Wool Market in Spitalfields should be high on everyone’s list for protection. Once it’s gone, baby, it’s gone (and this from Detroit.)

  • Dulcibella

    There’s a very good alternative plan with some excellent backers which would save this, and be a million times more interesting than another megamall. See http://www.savebritainsheritage.org/docs/articles/SAVE%20scheme%20for%20Smithfield%20General%20Market%202012.pdf
    But developers prefer a clean slate to work with and Osborne has removed any incentive for restoration.
    Agree the Fruit & Wool Exchange also needs help, and wholly disagree with the ‘something/anything must be done’ comments here – the results are invariably bad.