Monday, July 17, 2017

Is the proposed Lexington Market "Divorced from the street level"?

The idea of tearing down the entire Lexington Market after a completely new structure has been erected south of the current building appears to be a practical proposal on first blush. Market tenants can operate without too much disruption, no need to muck around with an old structure and getting a state of the arts facility to boot.
Night rendering of the proposed market as seen from Eutaw Street
(Murphy Dittenhafer, Architects)

But a closer look at the conditions and the proposed design reveals many potentially fatal problems:
  • The new site is with 48,200 sf significantly smaller than the current market (76,600 sf) even if one doesn't include the Arcade (71,000) and the West Market (31,100 sf)
  • Deliveries and services via Marion Street, an alley, really, is extremely torturous compared to current access from Paca Street
  • The glass box design of the proposed new market makes little sense for the intended use
  • the new market floor which is level with Paca Street is virtually cut off from Eutaw Street
In the complicated set-up a master developer for Lexington Market is supposed to work with a Murphy Dittenhafer design concept that was part of previous investigations how to best revitalize the market. The schematic design was reviewed by UDARP at the end of June. It includes a 1.5 story building with a mezzanine, reportedly providing 97,000 sf of gross space.
Existing site modeling (Murphy Dittenhafer, Architects)

Proposed site modeling (Murphy Dittenhafer, Architects)
The study which was made the basis of the master developer RFP suggests that the existing Lexington Market is obsolete and that it would be best to rebuild an new market just to the south. The main reasons for such a drastic cure were given as obsolete infrastructure, the sloping floors, the dankness of the current structure, it not really being historic anyway and the difficulty of renovation with merchants in place.

Consequently the new structure is proposed to be the opposite of all of these perceived defects: It allows the merchants to continue in the old hall until the new one is ready to be occupied; the new market has floors as level as an office building; since the old hall wasn't historic, the new one will be constructed as a glass cube, i.e. with plenty of daylight and without any pretense or reference to the historic Lexington Market or the typical market shed architecture found in French public markets or in older US structures. The new design also includes a nice park on the area occupied by the current market.

The UDARP review correctly identified the biggest issue, the leveling of the floor. Welcome as it may be for stall architecture, the mobility impaired or expectations of shoppers, it eliminates one of the great advantages of the current market: At-grade entrances on both Paca and Eutaw Streets, even though Paca Streets sits 13' higher than Eutaw Street. The new main market floor, by contrast, is only at-grade at Paca Street and remains level throughout which makes it stick 13' into the air at Eutaw Street. As a result all customers wanting to enter the market there need to climb 13' up on an exterior stair to reach a side entrance that will only be possible after the old market has been demolished. Alternatively want-to-be customers have to enter a dingy little lobby from the sidewalk on Eutaw Street and climb up some interior stair without daylight or view. That stair is far less inviting than the stairs in the existing market leading to the mezzanine.
Peripheral Walkways
Interior rendering looking from Paca Street (Murphy Dittenhafer)
"The market's relation to its topography is key to the construct of this...I find it challenging that [the plans] don't reference the exterior and it is just landscaping or the interior of the building." David Rubin, UDARP member quoted in the BBJ 
UDARP member Gary Bowden agreed with Rubin:
"It is divorcing the market level from the street level, particularly on Eutaw. You have to look at how well it relates to the street." UDARP member Gary Bowden as quoted in the BBJ
The architects propose 37,000 of lower level space underneath the main floor adjacent to Eutaw Street. The spaces are labeled as "leasable commercial space", i.e. potentially retail or possibly market related vendor spaces.
Section through the building looking north (Murphy Dittenhafer, Architects)

Site section looking south (Murphy Dittenhafer, Architects)
The exterior character of the proposed flat roof glass box is quite corporate already, but that entry from Eutaw Street with its small lobby, elevator and stair makes the absence of any market flair intolerable.

Successful markets around the world have as many entry and exit points around their structures as possible to draw people in from all sides and provide a feeling that is similar to an open air market. Successful markets also "spill" out on all sides with open air stands often arranged under large roof overhangs and bringing the market activity outside. Most famous markets around the world don't get daylight through a window-wall but through skylights or roof lanterns.

By contrast, the proposed market floor in the glass box retracts the stalls from the facade and places circulation aisles and seating areas along the glass revealing very little of the market itself. The roof is flat and dull which is blatantly obvious on the exterior and the interior and has already been a problem with the existing market.
Existing Lexington Market (Photo: Philipsen)

A possible solution for the 13' grade difference that resulted in the sloping floor of the current market would be an arrangement where a traditional long rectangular market shed  would be turned 90 degrees and be arranged parallel to the contours. Such an elongated shed in north south direction would go across the lots of the current market plus the current parking lot. Outdoor spaces on the east and west sides of the shed would provide ways to create accessible routes to the main entries which would sit on the Lexington Street axis. In such an arrangement the 13' grade difference would be split between both streets and the entire interior would be level in spite of the terrain. Following the contour lines is essentially also how Pikes Place Market  in Seattle works even though it sits in a cliff overlooking Puget Sound. Seattle celebrated the expansion and renovation of the waterside of the market with a grand opening on June 29 of this year.
Historic Lexington Market before fire 

The architecture of such a north-south shed could be a modern interpretation of historic markets with large roof overhangs covering exterior stalls lining the walls like it used to be at the historic Lexington Market as well. This arrangement, though, would require demolition of the current market before new construction and temporary relocation of vendors in the west market.

Another solution would be to place the new market in the suggested location but located the main market floor mid-level between Paca and Eutaw with the main entry on the side midways between Eutaw and Franklin and level what the terrain naturally would be there. Deliveries could remain as planned, even though the cramped approach and interior turn around for trucks appears barely workable.

It isn't unusual that market floors follow the street terrain, in fact, it is the normal way most markets work. Long before ADA, it had been recognized that direct and barrier free access from as many entries as possible makes service and delivery for merchants easier and facilitates the flow of shoppers. True, most markets don't sit on terrain that is as steep as Baltimore's Market with the prominent exception of Pikes Place Market in Seattle.
New rear side of Pikes Place Market Seattle

It is true that Baltimore's current main market doesn't have much architectural character when it comes to the buildings themselves. It is astonishing, then, to see that proposed building has even less character and that nothing was done to evoke market architecture in any way, inside or out. The charm of the concept as shown to UDARP is entirely in the proposed open space designed by Floura Teeter. But how sure can anybody be that this open space design would ever materialize? It has to be part of a later phase after all available resources will likely have been used up to build the new main building that is projected to cost $40 million? (According to DPoB $17million have been collected to date).
Light from above: Halle Secretan, Paris (Archdaily)

UDARP was correct to ask for some serious rethinking. Lexington Market is too important an element of Baltimore's cultural history and too important as a source of food for West Baltimore to proceed with a flawed approach for a costly new market. After all, it wouldn't be impossible to open up the roofs of the current market, bring daylight in, maybe just demo that arcade portion of the market, renew the building systems and refresh the market that many love, sloping floors notwithstanding.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

BBJ about Lexington Market UDARP review

Refurbished Eastern Market, DC: Light from above

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