Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Building a Better Cross Street Market

Sketch of Via dei Giubbonari by Allan Jacobs
by Marc Szarkowski

There is a fascinating description of the Via dei Giubbonari, one of Rome's intimate market streets, in Allan Jacobs' Great Streets:

“Via dei Giubbonari has existed since ancient times. In the early morning the first sounds and activities are generated by the market at the Campo dei Fiori [at one end of the street]. Window shutters are opened and a few doors and window grates are opened at the bars. By midmorning the Via dei Giubbonari is crowded. Passing acquaintances see each other, stop, and talk for a few moments. Upper-floor shutters are likely to be open and a woman may appear, momentarily, to look down...

Later in the afternoon there is a second opening of stores and a much larger crowd. This is the late afternoon-early evening stroll. If you stand in one place long enough you may see the same people pass two or three times; shopping, to be sure, but also meeting friends, talking, and strolling. At the Campo dei Fiori people meet and talk in small groups. Some children are kicking a football. There are families. Much later, after the restaurants and bars on the street close, Via dei Giubbonari is still.” (20-34)

Baltimore is fortunate to have several public places that resonate with life on such a spiritually-gratifying level. Despite the pockets of street/market life throughout the city, too often it seems like many of the city's routine public activities occur behind closed doors, inside sealed special-event “facilities.”

Cross Street Market is, unfortunately, just such a sealed public place. The active interior milieu is wonderful, but even with the modest entrance renovations of recent years, the market building is still a drab, dreary, practically windowless shed that offers no tantalizing peeks into the interior festivities. I think Federal Hill deserves a better market, one that could engage the surrounding streetscape (which could be improved itself) and serve as a prominent focal point for the community.

What I find compelling about Jacobs' description of the Via dei Giubbonari is that each and every one of the streetscape traits he described could serve as inspiration for the design of almost any public building.

Site plan of proposed market in existing context
What if Cross Street Market could be rebuilt to accommodate a similarly-permeable ambiance that had the ability to enliven the surrounding streets? The market is perfectly poised for a thorough redo – it may be a dismal shed, but it has convenient Circulator access and it's right in the middle of an intimate commercial district. I also attempted to incorporate several other commonly-discussed ideas for improving the market:

Section of proposed market in improved Cross Street context
With some careful reconstruction of the existing streetscape, the proposed market could fit in a slightly-widened median without requiring any demolition of surrounding buildings. In fact, I strongly suggest filling in any “missing teeth” (gaps in the street wall) with new rowhouses/shopfronts, and adding additional floors atop any one-story buildings so Cross Street could feel comfortably enclosed. The street itself could even be rebuilt to offer intimate plazas in front of the market's entrances. The slight reduction of on-street parking could be compensated by increasing capacity at the nearby West Street parking garage.

Section through proposed market's gallery
I rebuilt the market's blank side walls into a series of bays punctuated by windows and delivery doors. Two prominent and invitingly-open “headhouses” or grand entrances are positioned at both ends of the market (facing Charles and Light Streets) while a third headhouse intends to lure in the pedestrians walking down from the West Street garage. A covered arcade runs along the perimeter of the market and allows strolling pedestrians to glimpse various interior activities in a series of vignettes.

Elevation, section, and floorplans of proposed market
An expanded market could accommodate additional market stalls to offer a wider range of merchandise and lure in a broader spectrum of people. Since I proposed dividing the market stalls with moveable partitions, portions of the second floor could also host various social activities - neighborhood meetings, temporary performances, festivals, clubs, and so on. The first floor could offer a mix of activities as well: market stalls, concession stalls (restaurants and bars), vending areas, and seating areas, among other activities.

View of proposed market's interior
A dim, low-ceilinged public place is always a disappointment, and the existing market is a case in point. The proposed replacement offers a broad central dining/sitting/strolling gallery topped with a vaulted glass roof supported by steel or cast iron trusses. The vaulted glass roof and the facade’s many windows allow natural light to flood the market’s interior.

What if Baltimore's arabber community had new, safe, clean places to stable horses and store delivery wagons? The proposed market offers several arabber stalls which, in addition to preserving and promoting the arabber culture in a prominent location, could encourage the market's merchants to improve their exposure/sales by wholesaling products to arabbers, who in turn could resell/deliver those products to surrounding neighborhoods.

Section through typical headhouse
The proposed market’s brick exterior seeks to complement the brick rowhouses of Federal Hill, but its oriental, bazaarlike architectural motifs and sea monsters allude to Baltimore's fascinating history as a beehive of commerce, shipping, trade, and exotic seafaring activity. And since money is the biggest obstacle facing any ambitious construction project, I attempted to incorporate several cost-saving strategies into the proposal: The market's repeating details and structural components, for example, could be mass-fabricated and quickly bolted together (like the appealing cast iron components in many 19th century buildings).

I can't possibly cram all the proposed market's features into one blog post, so I invite readers to browse a full-size PDF of the proposal here. You can also read a more detailed description of the market on the proposal's Flickr webpage.

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