Welcome to the “meet” market

The Smithfield area is going to change beyond recognition – but we may have to wait for a decade

By Peter Bill

In January two moulds were cast for the transformation of Smithfield Meat Market. Designs by architect Studio Egret West and Hawkins\Brown were unveiled by the City Corporation, showing how the East and West market buildings will be turned into what might be called a “meet” market, used for exhibitions and events. Then, the Museum of London lodged plans by Stanton Williams Architects for a £337 million redevelopment of the long-empty western end of the 800-year-old market.

The meat traders are off to Dagenham. The museum is keen to shift from London Wall, their emptied galleries replaced by a 2,000-seat concert hall and offices to be stacked in a £288 million “twisting ziggurat”, set to house conductor Simon Rattle’s dream of a home for the London Symphony Orchestra to designs by US architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro – lustrous designers of the feted High Line park in New York.

These three projects anchor the City’s Culture Mile (see EC1 Echo No.1) – a 110-acre circle centred on Barbican tube station. The fourth vital element is to clean up the noxious Beech Street underpass. The tunnel under the Barbican will be made more welcoming for pedestrians by adding wide pavements, shops, and entrances into the performance halls above. This spring, combustion engines are being banned in Beech Street. Fortunately, the 153 bus, which runs from Finsbury Park to Finsbury Circus, is electric.

All of which sounds welcome. But we shouldn’t hold our breath on the mooted concert hall and one of the two Smithfield projects. The Western market buildings have mouldered largely empty since the 1980s. Failed attempts to either tear the buildings down and build offices, or insert offices behind the Victorian facades, wasted a decade Continued from Page-1 – until the Museum of London came to the rescue in 2015.

This project was then slated to open in 2021 at a cost of £70m. The opening date is now 2024 and the price hiked to £337m. Happily, the City Corporation has promised £197m and the Mayor of London £70m, leaving £70m to be found privately. Back at the Barbican, rumblings can be heard from occupants about the need for another concert hall so close by.

But, at the moment, both projects are set to go ahead – with a couple of hurdles. The Barbican’s ‘twisting ziggurat’ project will rely on a developer prepared to take on part of the £288 million risk on the basis of being able to let the office space. No one has yet been appointed. The cost of the expensive-looking designs may well be adjusted following the hiring of a developer.

The City is backing the Museum of London move, for it will form the western portal into the Culture Mile, and attract 2m visitors a year. It might also be nearer the end of the decade before the meat market becomes the new market. But the die is cast. The City has bought Barking Power Station to house the porters. Farringdon Crossrail station is to be yards away. The restoration looks sensitive and uncontentious. Give it a decade – the area will be unrecognisable.

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