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TYPOLOGY | The covered market

How does a typology survive?

The COVERED MARKET  is a special building that offers, thanks to its structure,  the proper space for buying and selling, creating a direct contact between the seller and the customer.

Markets are open structures, sometimes on pillars and naturally lit, covered by a thin canopy or by a  roof. Usually there are some internal elements, such as stands or pavilions, for product display: these elements are organized in rows or following a grid, to exploit the available space at best and to avoid the caotic atmosphere you can often find in street markets.


Trade has always found a way. Weather in squares or buildings, markets have been at the core of cities, and one of the main urban propellers. When cities became more and more complex and the market became a potential element of chaos, the construction of a special building for buying and selling became the obvious solution for the city to meet its citizens’ needs.

Europe developed the MARKET HALL: a covered area historically used as a marketplace to trade provisions and livestock, sometimes combined with space for public or civic functions on the upper floors. Usually located near a market square or a wharf, the Market Hall was firstly developed in rural England and then spread to colonial territories and to the rest of Europe.

In Asia, the BAZAAR was developed as a permanent enclosed area for merchandising. Differently from the Market Hall, the word“bazaar” doesn’t correspond to one unique structure and it can also refer to more flexible and open structures (for examples streets of shops and courtyards).


During the last decades, the contemporary different shopping experiences brought about many kinds of marketplace: from the weekly town-market, to malls, ateliers, studios and boutique shops. The buying and selling places are becoming all the more ambiguous.

However, the covered market typology has survived.

>> Unconventional buildings with stand-out elements

Some modern buildings, even if different in shape and dimension from the traditional markets, are ascribable to the covered market typology. For example, some new markets like the Abu Dhabi Central Market by Foster + Partners perform more and more functions and showcase amazing designs, but they use the same spatial solutions elaborated centuries ago.

[Photo by Neil Young | Foster + Partners]

[Photo by Neil Young | Foster + Partners]


The Markthal in Rotterdam, designed by MVRDV, has a surface of 100000mq. Although the urban scale has changed and we truly are in front of a gigantic building, we can still recognize the traditional European covered market. In fact, combining traditional strategies with contemporary needs, the Markthal is the modern evolution of the covered market.

Cities are bigger and bigger, there are lots of different people with different desires: the new covered market has to welcome all of them, creating  a space of urban identification and everyday gatherings. But all these features need to be organized, and the grid, with internal paths that simulate a “city in the city”, is still the best answer.

Moreover, the huge roof is the perfect solution to enclose such a big area and also to allow the dialogue between inside and outside: when you’re inside the Markthal you are under its faboulous roof, but you can still feel the city outside. Colors and dreamlike images emphasize the idea of gathering and makes the Markthal, along with its shape and size, a truly special building.


[Photo courtesy of MVRDV]

[read more about MVRDV’s new Markthal >> glass and colors take over in Rotterdam]

>> New building, recognizable archetype

If it worked in the past, why shouldn’t the covered market not work now? Some architects decide to use thin  coverings, pillars and natural light also today; maybe they use different materials and modern  technologies, but the archetype is very same.  The three projects that reached the podium of the competition for a new Sustainable Market Square in Casablanca show how the covered market typology can be differently interpreted.

Winning Proposal by TomDavid Architects
[Photo by TomDavid Architects]

Second Prize by PMG Architects
[Photo by PMG Architects]

Third Prize  by various architects
[Photo by Florent Chagny, Soufia Louzir, Thomas Sponti, Florian Chazeau]


Mercato Encants by b720 Fermín Vázquez Arquitectos is a demonstration of how much the typology can be formally twisted, in some of its parts. The project consists in the enlargement and ehancement of the existing Els Encants outdoor market, not far from the new site.

From the architect: “Its design intends to avoid building multiple floors thus rejecting the model of a commercial centre. Instead of that, a continuous commercial area was designed, with slightly inclined planes intertwining and generating an endless loop which links stalls and small shops. The visitor’s experience is similar to a stroll through a pedestrian road.”

[Photos by Rafael Vargas]


On the other side, Covington Farmers Market by  design/buildLAB shows how the clear and linear adhesion to some elements taken from the original  typology can bring to a brilliant result. Design/buildLAB is a third year architecture studio at the Virginia Tech, School of Architecture + Design focused on the research, development and implementation of innovative construction methods and architectural designs. One of the prerogative of each design/buildLAB’s project is the collaboration with local communities: students spent a number of weeks studying existing Farmers Markets around Virginia. After every students made his own individual propose, all ideas were collected and discussed, to elaborate an unique masterplan. Sustainability, prefabrication and attention to different scales were the guidelines for this project.

[Photos by design/build Lab]

>> Historical buildings still at use 

Some covered markets built centuries ago are still working; sometimes renovation is needed, some other there is only an upgrading intervention: artificial lighting, enlargements, new organization, …. The Istanbul Grand Bazaar is an example of continuous use, while the Florence Central Market reopened his first floor only after some intervention.

[Mercato Centrale Firenze]

Mercato Centrale Firenze


The Grand Bazaar (in turkish Kapalı çarşı, that means “covered market”) is the largest and oldest covered markets. Its great charm attracts between 250,000 and 400,000 people daily; visitor can truly undersatnd how much this bazaar is part of the city and of its culture. With a surface of 300700 mq, more than 20 gates are needes; the market area is completely covered and includes about 61 streets and more than 3000 shops.

One of the most particular aspect of the Grand Bazaar is the big number of hans, that punctuates the area. The han (or caravanserai) is a traditional Islamic courtyard, located both in cities and in the desert enclosed by a porch;  originally, around this structure, there were rooms and stalls for merchants and their horses. Today, in modern bazaars, hans fulfill the market experience: they are  place of rest and of cultural identification, with their arches and decorative motifs.


This market, located in the homonymous square, conserves the original iron structure, realized  in the beginning XX century; the 1200 surface is distributed on two levels. During its century of life, its function and identity has little changed. To avoid its demise, a group of privates with cultural, gastronomic and architectural interests founded the society “El Gastronomo de San Miguel” (the actual main owner of the market). The society’s goal, perfectly reached, was to revitalize the traditional activity of the market and enhance the offer of high quality products; some shops disappeared, leaving room for cafés and sample points; now, you can still do your everyday shopping, but you can also start a taste itinerary.

Mercado San Miguel Madrid

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My fundamentals: creativity and pragmatism. When a was a little girl I wanted to be a vet during the week and a great painter on Saturdays and Sundays. Now, I am a confused and curious mind at Architecture's service.

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