The need to reduce the number of stalls on Northampton Market to a sensible and viable level was a necessary step towards rationalising the centuries old custom of shopping outdoors to meet today’s demand. With the many design options and peoples tastes to consider, let alone the ergonomics of a working market, a restricted budget was never going to be helpful. After competitions, consultations and much discussion, NBC’s Market Square Client Group agreed eighteen months ago, to create a smaller, but high quality and flexible open market on the Market Square and to use the remaining part of the square as a civic space.
The original concept for a scaled down project suggested by Nottingham based architects Letts Wheeler involved paving work and public art to properly define the concept of dividing the square into two triangles, one for traders and the other as a public triangular piazza.
By not following the detailed infrastructure of the plan, which was designed to emphasise the two distinct areas, the recent attempt to change the market does little else than make it appear as if the market has simply shrunk. The ill-defined empty ‘civic space’ now looks abandoned with no sense of form, order or purpose.
Although filling the empty zone with the recent and successful French market worked well, events of that kind can only represent brief episodes punctuating the considerable periods of baron time that would inevitably fall between events.
Unless strongly defined by landmark groundwork, square or oblong stalls can never fit neatly into triangular areas and they might always appear a formless and untidy mess. A more practical and logical way to reduce the number of stalls to suit the present day needs would be to adopt a cruciform layout with wide open avenues running north/south and east/west.
A cruciform plan for the new ‘market square with vision’ is illustrated in both plan and asymmetric representation. Any one quarter could be enlarged when required to accommodate innovative market concepts (such as the French promotion) and the open yet compact plan of the new market ‘squares’ would have a robust presence and be clearly visible to all visitors. Each quarter could adopt its own image or offer, providing a desirable identity and appeal to shoppers.
In addition the central focal point, best left empty at first, could be opened to a competition, perhaps especially to local artists, to design an appropriate permanent installation to provide a unique statement of our county-town heritage.
The cost of this transformation would not be out of reach as little structural change would be required. The impact however would be considerable and the community would I believe, be grateful for a return to grass roots common sense in adopting a new but traditional approach to our historic town centre square.
- JS Sheinman Member of NBC Market Square Client Group