Smithfield Market — Birmingham

Client
Lendlease

Collaborators
John O'Mara Architects / ARUP / Estudi Martí Franch / The Planning Lab / Donald Hyslop / Squint/Opera / New Economics Foundation / Counterculture

Smithfield is the location where both the City of Birmingham and its famous market were born and the fortunes of market and city are inextricably linked and dynamic. Our shortlisted submission for the competition explored the potential of this dynamic to inform a 21st century market.

Birmingham avoided the worst of the urban epidemics of the nineteenth century through inventive political & social reform, manifest in the physical improvement of the city. When the Street Commissioners (the forerunners of the City Council) began their work of urban renovation, imagine their delight on finding a rare ‘clearing’ right in the heart of the city. This open estate at Smithfield was the moated manor house of the de Birmingham family, granted the right to hold the original market in the 12th century.

With poetic justice, the Commissioners acquired this estate to provide the space to reform and regulate the city’s market, clearing animals from the streets, simultaneously confronting disease and improving trade: that quintessentially Brum dialectic.

The Smithfield competition brief proposes welding together the city’s market with spaces for entertainment and production. We felt that Robert Brownjohn’s sleeve artwork for the Rolling Stones’ album Let it Bleed was emblematic of the project: in Birmingham style, the reverse sleeve depicts the neat layer cake disrupted and hybridised: popular culture, manufacture, media and food thrown together into a fertile interaction.

Referencing the Cadbury brothers’ conception of Bournville, we imagined the project as the creation of a Factory in a Garden: the Market being the place of exchange within the generative space of the garden, from which spaces of innovation and production (the factory) rise. The Cadburys fled the congested C19th city to create a utopian new relationship between living & working: The Smithfield project offers the chance to bring this innovative spirit back to Birmingham as a project of urban renovation.

Our team for the Smithfield Market competition included John O’Mara Architects, Estudio Martí Franch, Arup, Donald Hyslop, New Economics Foundation, Squint Opera, Counterculture and the Planning Lab. The other finalists included teams led by David Kohn Architects (the competition winners), ACME & b720 Fermín Vázquez arquitectos with James Corner Field Operations, Moreau Kusunoki Architects and Publica with Alejandro Echeverri & Shigeru Ban. More than 70 entries were received from across the world in a strongly fought competition. Watch a film of our team's approach to designing the market here.

The new markets will be the centrepiece of the £1.5 billion Smithfield development – positioned adjacent to the Bullring and Digbeth, and a short walking distance from Birmingham’s existing New Street and future HS2 stations.

Lendlease is Birmingham City Council’s preferred development partner for Smithfield and the Markets are central to the City Council’s Big City Plan, a 25-year vision to support the development of a world-class city centre. As well as a new markets building, the Smithfield development will deliver a significant family leisure and cultural offer, a new public square, integrated public transport and more than 2,000 homes with a public park and community facilities.

From its foundation the market has continuously evolved as a mirror of the city’s vitality. This drawing explores the dynamism of the market as it has moved between order and disorder, between containment and dispersion in the city. This dynamism is used to speculate on the future shape of the market: one that can accommodate – even privilege – change and adaptability.

The market has three key horizons

The Garden – A glowing productive garden as a microcosm of Birmingham’s regional & global hinterland – from Stilton and Melton Mowbray pies to tea and cocoa plantations, landscapes representative of the city’s diverse and globalised culture. This landscape is at once ‘natural’ and highly artificial.

The Market – A series of radically open street connections. The market (on a series of slight inclines) in various guises, links between the productive ground and floating upper layer.

The Moat, the generative site of Birmingham’s foundation as a city and as a market, encloses a convivial space – a dining hall or theatre – that references the table and hearth of the manor house.

The Factory is an attached and integrated element of the future market, sampling each layer. The initiatives it encourages, showcases and develops are transformative and democratising forces that recast our understanding of the Market.

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