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Late last year, when the words COVID, social distancing and furlough weren’t part of our vocabulary, the UK’s growing penchant for indoor food markets was further satiated with the arrival of Market Hall West End – Market Hall’s flagship and most ambitious venue.
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Taking more than 35,000 sq ft over three floors of the former BHS department store on London’s busiest shopping street, Market Hall West End is now the UK’s largest food hall.
Guests are greeted by a stairway to food heaven on Holles Street (just off Oxford Street), rising over a boutique gym at ground floor and inviting visitors up to 11 kitchens, four bars, a coffee cart, TV studio, private dining/events space and a roof terrace. This is the third Market Hall to arrive in London in the past two years, following successful locations in Fulham and Victoria in 2018 – all designed by FaulknerBrowns Architects.
The design process was extremely collaborative, fast, tense, revealing and focused, Steve Dickson, Senior Associate at FaulknerBrowns, tells us. ‘The concept was very much about bringing back unloved or underused spaces of architectural interest and celebrate their inherent qualities,’ says Steve. ‘In this case to pair the building right back to its mid-century concrete frame – the revealed structure gives a rich urban texture and neutral tone, providing a backdrop for the traders to display their brands.’
The key design ambition was to create high value spaces at a low cost, which drove creative and efficient use of the existing building, together with new interventions. The retailers sit centrally at the heart of the scheme and form the key character of the space, with punchy vibrant branding sitting well against the raw industrial backdrop of the existing building.
‘Market Hall West End is the largest food market hall in the UK and was delivered at half the cost of typical food retail,’ says Steve. ‘That’s pretty unique, but more importantly it provides a platform for innovative food businesses: offering an affordable route to central locations with low overheads and a turnover-based arrangement.
‘Short-term contracts mean established chefs can trial new concepts, start-ups can get a foot on the ladder, and trader line-ups may be modified in response to seasons, customer requests and food fashions – all of which provides an appealing environment both for caterers to operate from, and for returning customers looking for something new.’
The ambition for the space was to create a real ‘wow factor’ experience that would be unique and truly memorable. An eclectic mix of industrial and classic furniture pieces sit around the kitchen pods, hinting back to the building’s 1950s heritage. Raw metals and bold colours harmonise with the graphic nature of the kitchen units, while existing architectural details such as waste pipes are celebrated in bright colours.
‘Working within an existing building very much brings a design DNA,’ Steve continues. ‘Our ethos was to explore and celebrate the existing fabric and structure whilst giving the food retailers and artisans a platform for their individuality and brand. Peeling away the layers of embedded history from an unloved BHS department store meant we had to make rapid and informed decisions to achieve our design goals.’
A selection of rich patinas and handcrafted tiles form the bars on level one, with galvanised steel stair lining sitting perfectly alongside patched plaster and the concrete of the existing wall surfaces. The dining area is set up around short-stay lunch and evening visits, with longer dwelling areas to the outer edges of the space and a visual connection to Cavendish Square giving visitors the feeling of being in a bustling central London venue.
Neon feature lighting creates much of the signage throughout, adding to the retro vibe and contrasting against the more rustic original features. ‘Lighting selection and design was key to the success of the space,’ says Steve. ‘We saw this as a theatrical intent, which aimed to downlight onto the furniture and feature space – allowing the exposed mechanical services to float through at high level without overpowering the space.’
Wellbeing forms a successful element of level two, bringing a relaxed vibe, ideal for events and social gatherings, with an abundance of planting, mood lighting and naturally-lit areas.
The top floor has a lush palette of materials to create two distinctive themed spaces: The Garden Bar emits an airy, biophillic feel, featuring raw plaster, textured crittal glazing and the large-scale tiled floor, which also takes inspiration from the original adjacent architectural elevations. Next door, the Cocktail Bar takes on a deeper feeling of luxury, using velvet, rustic timber floor and textured plastered walls. The existing steel structure was uncovered and used to hang theatrical lighting through suspended planting, connecting the three levels through a central void.
‘The vibe is Festival of Britain meets European food market,’ adds Steve. ‘It’s honest, authentic and real.’
The Market Halls are a new generation of food destinations, with a vision to bring new life into existing buildings and deliver exciting spaces. This is what London has been missing – it’s certainly what we have been missing. And, once Government guidelines allow, we’ll invite our friends!
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