From fruit to futures

Spitalfields Market will be trading in lucre alongside the lettuces when a magnificent new development designed by Sir Norman Foster is completed.

Think market, think fruit and veg. Or second-hand books, antiques, cut-price, copycat "designer-label" T-shirts and frocks. There is, however, another type of market, equally gritty, equally boisterous, yet bang up- to-date, driven by computers and coming to Spitalfields on the fringe of the City of London very soon, despite outbursts of protest from local conservation groups.

Liffe (London International Financial Futures Exchange) is the largest futures and options exchange in Europe. It plans to build an enormous new trading complex on the 13-acre urban wasteland between Broadgate - the titanic Eighties Post-Modern office complex straddling Liverpool Street station - and what survives of old Spitalfields Market. The core of the new development - assuming it goes ahead - is, as plans reveal, a triple- height, column-free trading floor, which at 60,000 square feet is the equivalent of a premier league football pitch or the area of the Royal Albert Hall. On top of this is a second floor, 40,000 square feet, again triple height and column-free. Technical support spaces for these revolutionary new trading floors are three times as big again. "The physical stature of these huge market areas," says Sir Norman Foster, architect of Liffe, "is reflected in their world standing. Liffe is a close second to Chicago and well ahead of other international competitors. To put this into a financial context, a typical current trading day has a nominal value of pounds 170bn, which is the equivalent of the entire UK economy achieved over a three-day period. The activities of Liffe and its members contributed pounds 870m last year to the UK economy."

To put this financial behemoth into the context of Spitalfields has been the problem taxing Foster and Partners and the Spitalfields Development Group, which bought a 150-year lease on Spitalfields Market from the Corporation of London in 1987 and is charged with its regeneration. The building type itself - a giant modern market trading in lucre rather than fruit and veg - really does seem appropriate to the site. Anyone who has ever set foot on a trading room floor in full swing will recognise it as a street market (or a day at the races) in only slightly different dress. Loudly dressed lads (mostly in their early to mid-twenties) yell and sign frantically as they trade, a testosterone-driven cross between barrow boys and tic- tac men. To an outsider, the scene is one of mayhem: it is almost impossible to understand what is going on. What makes it strangely familiar, however, is that it has the atmosphere and many of the trappings of old Spitalfields Market. At heart, and despite a change in technology, Liffe belongs here. It will also bring 7,000 new jobs in its wake, many going to local residents, as well as shops, bars, cafes and all the accoutrements of dynamic City life.

The reason why local groups are suspicious is because they fear the scale of this boisterous invader. Perhaps, too, they have got used to Spitalfields becoming relatively genteel since the fruit and veg market moved to Temple Mills, Waltham Forest six years ago. Gone from the old market buildings, between Broadgate and Hawksmoor's magnificent Christ Church, are the hissing all-night artics, the whooshing of fork-lift trucks, the "Ois!" and "Ehs?" of brawny men unloading hundredweights of sprouts and broccoli, the low- rent hookers, beggars and poor old people sifting through discarded vegetables strewn across the early-morning streets. Spitalfields seems a little frightened of a return to the gung-ho, all-action life that will be part and parcel and indeed the very meaning of Liffe.

To cope with the scale, Foster has had to be ingenious. The Liffe buildings are to step down in height from 12 storeys facing Broadgate to just three facing the listed Victorian market. This is possible only by sinking the vast trading floors, or market halls, deep into the ground. These basements will go down 16 metres, the equivalent of six domestic storeys and will be the among the deepest in London. Their construction alone will take 18 months. Further ingenuity on the part of Foster's team of architects and engineers will bring daylight into the furthest reaches of the complex.

To ensure that Liffe is not an isolated urban island, a glazed street (or arcade) will run through the complex, a new link between Liverpool Street and Broadgate and the market. New public spaces realised in gritty materials (no heritage nonsense here) will help establish a real bit of city here, especially as Liffe will be flanked by auxiliary shops and cafes. The new buildings will be alive with bustling activity for much of the day and the design of this great machine for moving money will be such that much of the activity going on inside will be seen from the outside. It is as permeable as a Victorian market hall. "The facades," says Foster, "are a mixture of solid panels and different glasses - some transparent, others translucent or opaque. The texture of the metals which frame the glazing and extend to the panels will range from matt to polished. The palette of colour extends from dark greys to gunmetal, silver and white. This varied, but essentially neutral background will be a foil for the vividly coloured uniforms of the market traders and the ad hoc variety and life of the many shops, cafes and restaurants which are an integral part of the project."

Groups including Save Spitalfields, the Spitalfields Society and the Spitalfields Small Business Association, waspish at the moment, may feel more enthused about the scheme as its complexity and relevance to the area unfold. Liffe is not your average dull developer's office block. Nor is it a threat to the activities and jobs that have replaced the old fruit and veg market. The Victorian market hall is currently host to 90 businesses and 400 full-time jobs. The developers have learned much since the recession, so much so in fact that the Spitalfields Development Group has turned from bully to benevolent uncle, distributing largesse in Spitalfields and doing its level best to create a community as well as money.

The architectural mistake that the developers have made is not Foster's Liffe, but the 83 (with 74 more to come) flats built here recently in the guise of neo-Georgian houses. These are certainly popular, in the sense that they have all been pre-sold, but they make a mockery of the adjacent early Georgian streets that have survived this far and against all the odds, only to be faced with an unprecedented attack of suburbia- in-urbe. Odd that local groups do not question such inappropriate design yet attack Liffe, which brings the Victorian market intelligently up to date.

Developers have a knack, however, of appearing to be insensitive. Prickly, litigious souls, they wish to be respected, but too often act aggressively and with an astonishing lack of sensitivity. The Spitalfields Development Group has not presented the Liffe project attractively to local pressure groups and residents. It has also, while giving generously on the one hand, all but pulled the plug on the Spitalfields Market Opera, London's first chamber opera house and, although new, already a much liked and praised institution housed in the heart of the old market buildings. Bernstein's On The Town has just played to capacity audiences, while other musical and dramatic events have been organised here by local Bengali and Somali communities. A popular opera house is a perfect companion to market trading; who remembers the delightful pairing of old Covent Garden market (in its fruit-and-veg days) and the Royal Opera House?

The potential mix of sophisticated new architecture and restored Victorian market halls, opera and market trading, Georgian streets, a Hawksmoor miracle and a new generation of colourful barrow-boys at Liffe, has the possibility of making Spitalfields a very special place and a precedent for dynamic urban redevelopment elsewhere. Here, if anywhere, there is the need to get the mix right between what was and what could be, between metaphorical chalk and cheese, literal fruit and vegn

Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific