Aalto library

During the latter part of the twentieth century, the architectural historian Kenneth Frampton said that, “the civic institution has become a fragile entity.” Lamentably, it seems that the only way to achieve something more than piecemeal transformations of the structures that strengthen the urban fabric is through wholesale destruction. Wars and catastrophe necessitate a rebuilding and hence a rethinking of what was. But a void appears in the urban environment when architects, city planners, real estate interests and municipal authorities fail or are incapable of imagining and creating civic spaces that foster and add cohesion to the urban ensemble of space, structure, environmental social necessities. Instead, we have the glamour of architectural starlets placed amidst an urban plan at the mercy of developers and politicians.

Bp central market

In recognizing that the city as a living organic entity, Alvar Aalto’s observed that, “the status of public buildings in society should be just as important as the role of the vital organs in the human body.” In this context, judging by the evidence, the city has become an ailing patient in which the underlying nature of the disease elicits a quantity of commentary but attracts only piecemeal inadequate solutions. Within this mixture of a conceptual malaise and the self-aggrandizing priorities of politicians, in some cities, the market hall survives. In Barcelona or Budapest there are actually new market halls. These stalwart civic structures sometimes straddle the border between wholesale gentrification and enlightened civic policies. Devoid of neon and other familiar signage, they seem to be orphaned structures within the highly branded and commercialised modern cityscape. Yet, their presence and viability should be viewed as a civic necessity rather than a redundancy to be displaced by the supermarket.
In actuality, the survival of market halls (in addition to the farmer’s market) and their continued evolution is today just as important as the earliest examples. In addition to their value as public spaces, market halls are community economic incubators; they provide low-cost retail spaces for shopkeepers and artisans as well as the most direct outlet for regional producers and local farmers.