As urban populations expand, city marketplaces could be the key to reinstating our connection with the food we eat. With accessibility and affordability high on the agenda, what is the way forward for the city market of the 21st century

According to the UN’s ‘World Urbanisation Prospects’ report published in July 2014, 54% of the world’s current population lives in cities and the urban majority is set to grow to 66% by 2050, potentially adding 2.5 billion people to the global urban population over the next 35 years.

Densely packed urban populations can feel somewhat disconnected from their food supply, with the convenience of pre-packaged food often prioritised over fresh local produce, which can lead to nutritional problems in low-income districts.

Affordable, accessible urban food halls offer a source of fresh, healthy produce and act as social hubs that help bind communities together. To fulfil the latter role – and to ensure that market spaces are enjoyable enough to attract a loyal base of local customers – smart design-build methods are important. Here we highlight two market designs from recent years that help identify some of the core design and construction trends for the modern market.


Market Hall, Rotterdam, Netherlands

As cities become denser to cater for larger populations, new regulations are beginning to change the requirements for urban food markets. In the Netherlands, new legislation requires meat and fish markets to include covered areas for hygiene reasons, effectively meaning that the open-air food market is no longer a possibility in the country.

Rotterdam’s Market Hall opened in October 2014 and is both aesthetically welcoming and impressively suited to high-density urban living. Thanks to the huge glass facades at either end of the building, the 4600m2 retail space is light and open like a traditional marketplace, yet the enormous mural of fruit and vegetables that cover its walls and ceiling, adds a point of interest.

In conforming to strict regulations, Rotterdam-based MVRDV and it’s partners have laid out a new blueprint for a mixed-use inner-city market place that makes good use of space and places food at the heart of a community. It would not be at all surprising to see other forward- thinking cities, especially Asia’s densely-packed new mega-cities, using it as a template for the future.

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French Pavilion concept at Milan 2015 World’s Expo

Much has been said about the disconnection that modern urban living places between people and the food they eat. The marketplace has an important role to play in reinstating that connection, but could the markets of the future blur the boundaries between production and consumption?

In May 2014, French design studio X-TU Architects unveiled their design for the French pavilion. The theme looked at ‘feeding the planet, energy for life’. The pavilion design is inspired by a covered market made mostly of laminated wood, with airy entrances and enticing flows between inside and outside. The concept calls for an exhibition and market floor on the ground, with a restaurant on the top floor serving produce that is hydroponically cultivated on-site, within the façades and on the terraces of the building itself.

The pavilion promotes France’s architectural and agricultural expertise first and foremost, but it is nevertheless presented by a compelling vision, for the future of large-scale city marketplaces, if such a radical blending of the food supply chain through design could be achieved in an urban environment.

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