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June 2004
Under threat? Huddersfield Market Hall
Huddersfield Market Hall
Huddersfield Market Hall: These nine very large, terracotta panels reflect the theme of 'movement.'
Should old buildings have to make way for new? What happens if those 'old' buildings have only been around for a few years themselves? Who decides what is a good building anyway? We look at two very different views about Huddersfield Market Hall.
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On Sunday 20th June 2004 the Twentieth Century Society publishes a list of very recent buildings it feels are threatened in some way. Up there along with airports, cinemas, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford and Battersea Power Station is Huddersfield Market Hall, the only building in Yorkshire to make the list.

Kirklees Council is considering seven different options to redevelop the area around the town's library and is asking for comments from the public. Some of these options involve demolishing the Market Hall. An architect and a local historian, both Huddersfield residents, preset the case for and against keeping the Market Hall.

The case FOR Huddersfield Market Hall
Adrian Evans
Adrian is an architect and senior lecturer at Leeds Metropolitan University. He lives in Huddersfield.

Huddersfield is known for its Victorian architecture. It is less known for its Georgian buildings, and its 20th century heritage doesn't get a second glance. But the late 1960s saw the construction of perhaps the finest building in town.

Although Nicolas Pevsner describes Huddersfield's grade one-listed railway station as having "the best neoclassical station façade in Europe", as a Huddersfield resident - and an architect - I believe the Queensgate Market Hall is at least as significant.

A spectacular combination of architecture, engineering and art, it was opened on the 6th April 1970. It replaced an older, much-loved market hall, and largely because of this, I suspect, it has never achieved the recognition it deserves. The building celebrates the ancient roots of commerce: local people coming together to buy and sell things at reasonable prices. This is perhaps the very first reason we have towns and cities and here, the market hall creates a truly magnificent setting for this delightful, egalitarian activity.

However, the bustle of the market so demands the attention that it is easy to miss its main architectural attraction: the serene, airy 'forest canopy' that floats overhead.

Hudderfield Market Hall roof and shoppers
'The roof acts as 'treetops' above the shoppers

The main hall is a composition of 'trees' or 'mushrooms'. Each tree has a concrete canopy, or shell, supported by a single central column, which forms the 'trunk' of the tree. The concrete was poured into timber 'moulds' or 'formwork' in situ, and allowed to set, to form the canopies. Each canopy is a kind of twisted rectangle measuring 56 feet long by 31 feet wide. The shape of the shell is defined as an asymmetric rectangular 'hyperbolic paraboloid', or 'hypar' for short. There are 21 trees in all, twenty of which form a four by five grid, or 'forest'. The shell canopies are set at different levels to each other, and vertical strips of glazing cover the gaps between the edges of the shells, effortlessly forming simple, high-level strip windows.

The natural light from this glazing spills across the underside of the shells, revealing both the texture left by the formwork, and the spectacular curved, twisted shape of the canopies. The shells, in turn, diffuse the light and eliminate glare. The concrete is of excellent quality, and has weathered very well. Standing in the market hall is like being in a cathedral. It is breathtaking.

These amazing structures are completely free-standing. They receive no bracing from each other. Although there appears to be some steel linking some of the corners of the 'treetops' together, a closer look reveals that this is just electrical ducting. I don't think concrete hypar shells have been used in this way anywhere else. They are very likely to be unique.

What is even more astonishing is the economy of these special shell structures. They cantilever out from their column a staggering nine metres - a normal beam in concrete or steel, cantilevering out as far as this might be expected to be at least a metre deep. These shells are as little as 75 millimetres thick!

Both natural and mechanical ventilation have been cleverly integrated into the strip windows.The only interruptions to the surfaces of the shells - the light fittings and fans - are both, I believe, recent additions.

The architects also integrated significant and vast works of art, both inside the scheme and out. Inside the market hall there is a spectacular welded steel mural, running most of the length of one of the interior faces of the wall, some 50 metres long, with scenes of life, commerce, bustle and movement. Outside, on the main façade to Queensgate (the Huddersfield ring road) there is a procession of nine very large, deeply carved and textured terracotta panels, also on the theme of 'movement'. These panels each measure over 5 metres square.

Both works, though different in character, are by Stratford-on-Avon artist Fritz Steller of the Square One studio in Warwickshire. The form and texture of these terracotta panels, and the free edges of the concrete shells, apparently flying over head, offer the ring road a façade of truly dramatic composition. The view of this façade, as you drive around the town, is possibly even more exciting at night, when the undersides of the shells are floodlit.

Hudderfield Markdetail from interior steel mural
Detail from themural inside the market reflecting life, comerce and movement

Seymour Harris, the architects, obviously worked very closely with the structural engineers, Leonard and Partners, and Fritz Steller, to produce such a well integrated design. Sir Alfred McAlpine, the contractor, executed the design with considerable skill.

This building is now 34-years-old. It has weathered extremely well. Of course, it needs some care and maintenance. Yes, we must consider the needs of today's users of the building. But this is no reason to destroy such a work of art. It is a robust structure, very flexible to change. Let's give it the TLC it deserves. We could, if Huddersfield really wants a new market building, rehouse the market elsewhere and find a new and different use for the hall. Perhaps a glorious space for a gallery or exhibition? Or a light, airy covered street or square like the hugely successful Victoria Quarter in Leeds?

I don't wish to stand in the way of progress. By all means let's move forward with new and exciting cultural and retail buildings for Huddersfield. But if we are going to have landmark architecture, let's start by recognising the landmarks we already have.

The case AGAINST Huddersfield Market Hall
Lesley Kipling
Lesley is a local historian and lifelong resident of Hudderfield, keen on old buildings but not so keen on the improvements from the 60s.

It is an unlovely building. Very plain in appearance, architecturaly unexciting. I am not fond of elderly, grubby and greying concrete and its once-so-trendy black glass, initially tiny, is now dull and shabby. Its lack of attractiveness is, for me, emphasised by my memories of our glorious old Market Hall, and of the buildings which formerly occupied this site including a wonderfully ornate police station and our quaint old fire station, not to mention all the elegant buildings of Ramsden Street.

Hudderfield Market Hall
Are the market entrances "dark" and uninviting?"

Venture inside one of the dark, uninviting entrance tunnels and you feel you are leaving the sun and light of day for a claustrophobic warren, a mindless maze of stalls. You simply cannot get from A to B without going via C - very frustrating if you are in a hurry! I should hate to be in there if fire broke out. In addition, the atmoshere is of a dark and dingy cavern. In summer it is umbearably hot and airless, in winter it is cold and cheerless. Low ceilings combine with a lack of natural light to make it the kind of place where you don't want to linger, especially when the place is packed and you can only pass along the narrow aisles with great difficulty.

fruit in the market
"There are some great shops..."

Which is sad, because the one positive feature of the Market is that there are some great shops in there! There are terrific bargains to be had, the variety of the stalls is amazing, some of them sell goods that take your breath away. A great shopping centre and potential tourist attraction, if only...! If only, once in there, it was a comfortable shopping environment.

It's time the stallholders were given a better deal in a building which compliments and enhances the goods for sale, and entices people inside.

We spoke to a market trader who said he didn't think the Market Hall was a bad thing but that Huddersfield could do with a new one anyway...

TELL US WHAT YOU THINK...

Andy Chua, Singapore
Huddersfield Market Hall should stay. It has since became a landmark for me. I looked forward for Market Hall, after my lectures at the uni. It's rich in culture and also it's friendly composition lures me evrytime. Architecturely had embraced itself for the small town in Huddersfield. The victorian architecture had allowed Huddersfield to stand out from other towns that I had been. My favourite building would be the Huddersfield Train Station.

ken goulder-calgary canada
I haven't been there yet to see it! so it should not be demolished

Colleen huddersfield
Do you think Huddersfield Market Hall should be demolished? NO way. What do you think about buildings that have gone up in West Yorkshire in the last 50 years? I think the magority are ok. What is your favourite West Yorkshire building? Huddersfield trainstation or huddersfield library

Ross Cunliffe, Huddersfield
I think that the idea of moving the market elsewhere and turning the building into a kind of cultural square is an excellent idea. A combination of shops , cafes, restaurants and possible a feature celebrating the history of Huddersfield would be suitable. I don't live in Huddersfield anymore but I come back occasionally and this has allowed me to appreciate the change that has gradually happened in the last 4 years. It is starting to become a cosmopolitan place and something in keeping with this shift would be an excellent idea. So I would say a change in use would be best. Thank you.

Brett Blatchley, Jacksonville North Carolina, USA
I think the hypars and the way they are arranged are stunning. Perhaps the building could be updated to "brighten" it as some critics desire?

DICK HOLMAN HUDDERSFIELD
The trader, Christopher, has about the right idea. The lighting could be improved by rebuilding the stalls, with a mind to height & spread of the roofs. We need to keep the green space by the Library as well.

Christopher, Huddersfield
A new organisation, Huddersfield Gem, has just beeen launched to promote the market hall and it's future. Contact details are available from Kirklees Information at Huddersfield Library.

CHRISTOPHER, HUDDERSFIELD
Lesley Kipling seems to confuse the market hall with the drab shops and dismal arcades to the north of the market hall with the hall itself. Huddersfield’s market hall is probably the finest 20th Century public building in Yorkshire. If the visitors raise their eyes from the delights of the broken biscuits and bacon bits of the traders’ stalls I think they will understand. The market hall is I believe unique. As Adrian Evans described, technically speaking it has a roof that is made up of 21 freestanding asymmetrical hyperbolic paraboloids. This means that to the observant visitor one experiences walking between the stalks and under the the parasols of mushrooms towering above you. These mushrooms allow light of from all directions and allow shelter from rain because the water sheds not from their perimeters but to the centre of each stalk. From underneath these powerfully sculpted concrete mushrooms are decorated from the casting process. The wooden shuttering has left highly defined sympatehtic forms that are highly reminiscent of Le Corbusiers’ masterpiece, his pilgrimage chapel at Ronchamp, France. When one gets to a position that allows a view of the ceiling one can see how the vaulting allows the market to carry on uninterrupted and see it how it matches Basil Spence’s Coventry Cathedral for its impressive enclosure of volume and unobtrusive lighting. It is built (at eye level at least) of quality materials at random stone, brick and ashlar. It features some spectacular sculpture So here we have building that is finer than London’s South Bank complex or Tate Modern that folk are going gooey over; that was built without Arts Council, lottery or sponsorship; a building that house the most proletarian of activities, a produce market here in Huddersfield. What I find most extraordinary is that a building of such importance was built in a northern mill town in the late 1960s and its glory continues to go unnoticed by both its users and aesthetes. The problem with the fine market hall is the market! This oxymoron needs explanation. Buildings with fine vaulting like our gothic cathedrals remain unobstructed by the vulgarity of merchandising but here we have a building of real quality that is hard to enjoy from inside because of the clutter of traders stalls.. When it was built I understand a 200 seat restaurant was incorporated. This if it ever opened gave a fine view of the interior and a magnificent outdoor terrace high over Queensgate where now you could enjoy morning cafe latte under the cantilevering shelter of a freestanding asymmetrical hyperbolic paraboloid! This could have been a star of the town, but is not the case. Instead we have a gem that is hidden from our view, run down yet tarted up with hanging baskets; a building that is pocked with drab notices in dissonance with the building and its modernity. My modest proposal is that the market be given a bigger hall that has a better chance of meeting trader demand and attract more people to shop in the town. A site with good parking and near the bus and rail stations would seem appropriate. This can be done by demolishing the absurd and unloved civic centre offices and building our public servants offices on the old Holset car park. This would than allow the art gallery to burst out of the cramped top floor of the library and blossom in the finest gallery space in the country – our very own market hall with fashionable restaurant! Visit the hall, enjoy the Steller sculptures, delight in the ceiling


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