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