In November’s Last Word feature, Ken Greig, Partner at Greig & Stephenson, reflected on how architecture affects its surrounding community; the people, the businesses and the landscape…
Our involvement with Borough Market has in many ways taken us back to the grass roots, designing for small retail businesses rather than for the major multiples that have dominated shopping centre developments across the land for 50 years or more.
At the same time, the market has become a Mecca for food lovers throughout the UK and internationally to the extent that it is now the tenth most popular tourist attraction in London with 4.5m visitors. We were appointed 19 years ago when we won a competition organised by RIBA on behalf of the Trustees of Borough Market. As a wholesale fruit and vegetable market it was dying and this had a knock on effect for the surrounding streets with a very low-grade retail offer and no food shops.
Our first commission was to prepare a masterplan for the site looking at how different spaces could be re-oriented and structures renewed, and how the market should relate to its hinterland.
The way forward at the outset was very difficult with a virtually derelict space under the arches and no money available to do anything. It was like winning a job with no job to do. Ironically what broke the mould was the setting up of a barber’s shop in a caravan, which was then followed by Neals Yard Dairy, which took a space to store its cheese but found that people were knocking at the front door asking if they could buy cheese.
Armed with this initial success we worked with the trustees to secure £2.5m of Single Regeneration Funding from Government to create employment, generating uses and the seeds of the transformation from wholesale to retail were born. 19 years on the culmination of our involvement in designing market stall space, bringing derelict buildings back into use and creating community spaces was the opening this year of Three Crown Square, a focal point for events and the sale of fresh produce including fruit and vegetables, meat, fish and cheese.
Generally, Southwark Council was supportive of the transformation of the market and they granted us a change of use from wholesale to retail with about 15 per cent allocated for A3 hot food and restaurant uses. There was some concern regarding the relocation of the famous historic Floral Hall from Covent Garden with critics suggesting it was pastiche but it has been much more actively used since its move with market uses at ground floor level and the well-known Roast restaurant above.
For the practice, it has taught us much about the ways of retailing. When designing shopping centres they tend to be configured around what sort of space the anchor tenant wants. Interestingly shopping centre owners are now looking towards having market-style areas because consumers increasingly want vibrant independent retailer operations rather than being purely cloned high streets that look the same from one town centre to the next.