Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Lexington Market - What's Next?

The Morgan architecture student  Fereshreh Oreizi-Esfahani, hailing from Lebanon, traveled with the help of an AIA travel grant to study Parisian Public Markets. Her presentation reminded me of how simple the concept of the public market really is.
Fresh food at Lexington Market
Those consultants that the city had hired to figure out what to do with the Lexington Market had found too much wrong with it. The lighting, the mechanical systems, the basement, the storage, $26.7 million worth of reconstruction. I can't remember it all, as if the market should be reincarnated as an Apple store.

True, the Lexington Market today is a complicated affair, there is a West and an East Market, an Arcade and almost 2,000 parking spaces, most of them in a giant garage. 65,000 squarefeet are lease space in almost 180,000 of gross building area, huge, if one considers that a modern Wegman's supermarket is around 100,000sf gross area. Simplifying the array is probably a good idea.

Those three Parisien markets sound so interesting with their French names: Marché des Enfants Rouges, Marché D'Aligre and Marché Les Olympides. The three markets all sit in different socioeconomic settings, The one among the modern highrises in the vicinity of the Place D'Italy was the most structured and the least pleasing.  It turned out that the most successful market was the one that was surrounded by other retail and positioned in a fine-grained historic setting. Since the French do the same thing at the market as Americans, even if their attitude about food may be more refined, the student's lesson can be applied to Lexington Market as well: The fact that so little viable and related retail exists around it is a problem and so are large-scale parking garages with the their deadening effect on the Paca Street side of the Market.
Marché des Enfant Rouge, Paris

In spite of big pronouncements made earlier, the City must have second thoughts on Lexington Market. Or maybe it is just the money, or maybe the impending change in administration. But the Market so far remains as before, no jackhammers yet. There are still empty stalls but otherwise healthy crowds jamming the aisles at lunchtime.

Strong indoor-outdoor relations: Marché D'Aligre, Paris
Robert Thomas, a MIT architect and in charge of all Baltimore public markets,  says that his team is developing their "first phase plan to transform in place, because many people do like the market as it is". Good idea. "Outreach is supposed to be tweaked", he says. Well, fine, but the market needs to speak for itself.

That gets me back to the French markets. The best way a public market becomes attractive is when it sells good stuff and sits in the right setting. Ambiance, lighting and all that is secondary, even an architect has to admit. First a market is a market and only second a piece of architecture. Of course, some markets are great pieces of architecture, but the Lexington market isn't one of those and it would be a miracle if it ever would become one. Its just not in its DNA. Urban design is another matter. The market should be accessible on all four sides, like its sister markets in the neighborhoods, but with the monster garage on its side, this is near impossible.
Many don't like to go to the Lexington Market because of
the uninviting stretches that surround it. Police has cordoned off curbside
parking to better control drug activity
The goals the market touts on its website are good: maintaining affordability, more food-choices, an outdoor presence on that surface parking lot to the south, not closing during renovation, all good principles.

It looks like Mayor Rawlings Blake wants to assert her legacy in an upcoming announcement about the City public markets. Beyond that, the more the surrounding area will be revived with a lively local retail and restaurant scene, the better Lexington Market will be as well.  AIA's student travel grant told us so. A fully renovated set of storefronts and buildings just south of the market on Eutaw Street may be a good omen.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Lexington Market website
Request for Proposals
City Paper about Lexington Market

Related on my blog Community Architect: The Future of Public Markets
The Lexington Market Arcade, the huge parking garage looming in the back,
surface parking in the front

This is Paris, too: Marché des Olympides, uninviting public spaces surrounding it.