Developing a bespoke Kit Of Parts to better facilitate trade in changing environments, TANDEM Design Studio explores the necessary components of a successful market infrastructure.

A year on from the end of 2021 lockdowns, Melbournians are left with an acute awareness of the treasured landmarks in our neighbourhoods. Classed as an essential service throughout even the most stringent restrictions, local markets remained a casual, socially-distanced, open-air gathering point for all those within a 5 kilometre radius. These places, where some small sense of community remained, became lifelines in isolated times.

This reaffirms the intrinsic value of markets, as historic hubs of culture, tourism and trade. Whether day-to-day groceries or artisanal goods, they play a vital role in bolstering local communities, providing infrastructure to small businesses and activating cities. As the world rebuilds in the wake of Covid, there is vast potential for markets to reinvigorate economies through strengthened hospitality, retail and communal amenities.

“There’s great opportunities to create activity in and around markets, because all those peripheral areas and businesses can also really benefit from higher foot traffic,” says James Murray, Director at TANDEM Design Studio. “A market has an almost infectious effect on its surroundings. If you’ve got enough activity going on, you can actually start to transform some of these underutilised spaces.”

Fascinated by the manifold civic benefits in a well-designed market, our practice explores these ideas through architectural strategy and pragmatic spatial solutions. We identify opportunities to introduce engagement and extract value, creating efficiencies for traders, while tapping into the cultural fabric of a specific locale. 

We are interested in effective, affordable models for establishing new markets, as well as developing supportive frameworks around existing markets, to enable greater function outside of trading hours. Drawing on extensive research and expertise in this space, we imagine what impact a reimagined market might have in the heart of a popular regional city, such as Geelong. You can find our proposal here.

What makes a good market? The answer is both universal, and hyper-specific. The early morning activity, the passive indulgence of people-watching, hunting the best ingredients for dinner – these are a common thread. But a truly successful market goes beyond the daily supply and demand, capturing the unique character of its setting to become a destination.

“A good market appeals to both locals and tourists. It’s a place where you can get affordable, quality produce that supports local businesses,” says James. “And it has a wealth of experience for people coming into town wanting to understand what makes that area special, looking to discover the goods, crafts and skills unique to this region. That kind of deeper connection is what you can offer, with a market that’s really connected to its place.”

Perhaps the most visible example of this at work in Melbourne is the beloved Queen Victoria Market (QVM). Involved in its current renewal since 2013, we were engaged to work with NH Architecture to develop new Point of Sale facilities for the market traders. Our first focus was daily operations; understanding the idiosyncratic choreography of waste management and movement throughout the space. Gaining insight into the market’s inner workings, with sheds historically configured for daily produce delivery by the cartload, has proved incredibly informative in creating a responsive retail solution.

Throughout the design process, we held multiple workshops with different trader groups to work out their specific requirements. Working closely with QVM Management, we developed a Kit Of Parts, to streamline trade. This comprises a range of modular units, including pallet cool stores, coolrooms, under-bench and display refrigeration, upright refrigerators, under-bench dry storage, low pallet storage, dry secure display and tall pallet storage.

“Quite early on, we made foam models to scale, and invited traders to physically map out their ideal layout,” says Arianna Wilson, Associate at TANDEM. “From this, we got to see which modules were most popular, and which weren’t being used. If traders didn’t seem to find it useful, we would revise – it was a process of simplification. We brought it back to what was really essential.”

All components are lockable, customisable, easily moved by forklift, and accommodating of various product types – from wine to takeaway food, or fresh fruit and vegetables. Given its ubiquitous utility, we took proportions from the standard Australian size palette, allowing this to guide size and function. Collaborating on prototypes with the fabricator, the result is a series of robust modules, made to withstand the elements as well as suit diverse stock, merchandising and display requirements. Optimal building blocks for a market.

Preserving the character of such a significant site was at the forefront of our thinking, in discussions with QVM management and Heritage Victoria. While cohesion was an underlying aim in the design process, this project – and the market itself – is characterised by the vibrant individuality of its traders. 

“Though they trade under the same roof, these are separate businesses, run by different people, with different looks, selling different things,” explains Arianna. “So how do you create a responsive, fit-for-purpose solution for two different businesses with entirely different business models?”

To maintain each trader’s choice in the look and layout of their own space, we provided a base unit which could be clad in different skins. Interestingly, for such a renowned location, this is not a project preoccupied with achieving an overtly designed aesthetic. In situ, each unit in our Kit Of Parts is intentionally unassuming in appearance, so as not to disrupt the organic, grassroots feel which defines the market. In this way, we honour its legacy as an egalitarian place where culture thrives, and people of all walks of life may converge.

We are proud to play a part in the evolution of QVM, and look forward to contributing further thought and solutions toward a more architecturally-led future for markets in this country.