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Christopher R Marsden

Constructed 1968-1970 to the designs of the J. Seymour Harris Partnership, Birmingham, with Leonard & Partners, consulting engineers and sculptures by Square One Design Studio.

The market hall forms part of a nine acre Comprehensive Development Area planned late 1950s to early 1960s on land owned and compulsorily purchased by the Huddersfield Corporation and a developer; first Murrayfield, later Ravenseft.

The hall was - unlike other parts and phases of the development scheme - directly financed by the corporation. However, by asking the developer's architect Kenneth Wood, of J Seymour Harris, to design it, the integration of the market hall into the development was achieved.

The corporation's markets and fairs committee had already been to Blackburn, Wolverhampton, Sheffield and Coventry looking at market halls which offered better and more modern facilities than Huddersfield's. The architects' concept for the market was to have an interesting and economical roof structure which would return to the traditional concept of the market place with rough wooden stalls shaded but not enclosed by a number of canopies that allowed the feeling of the traditional variety and bustle of a market. For good measure the architect moved the column off-centre along the longitudinal axis by five feet to avoid monotony. This turned a purely geometrical form into a sculptural one. The design met the aspirations of the corporation sub-committee's aldermen; Douglas Graham, Reginald Hartley and in particular Clifford Stephenson who had a particular enthusiasm for architectural art.

Gwynfor Edwards "Gwyn" Roberts (b. Conway 1935, d. Birmingham 2004), the project architect for J. Seymour Harris, and Sculptor, Fritz Steller (b. Dresden 1941) had been at college in Birmingham together and were friends. Their early collaboration on the market hall gave public art its prominence in the project. This, together with the extensive development of reinforced concrete shells in Mexico by the Madrid-born architect and engineer, Felix Candela (b. Spain 1910, d. USA 1997), the adoption of Israel's, Eliahu Traum's 1964 and Argentine's Carlos Brebbia's 1966 methodologies for calculating the asymmetrical shell stresses and the subsequent testing of the Huddersfield shell design at Southampton University, by the team that had tested the shells of Sydney's Opera House, makes the market hall a product of international cooperation.


The precedents of the market hall roof are not obvious. Felix Candela's work was celebrated. In Mexico Candela had used hyperbolic paraboloid (hypar) umbrellas to cover commercial space; in 1954 he built his first hypar umbrella shell warehouse and in 1955 Coyoacan market hall. Later Candela was a consultant for the hypar umbrellas of the John Lewis Partnership Stevenage distribution Centre of 1963 (listed 1998). Candela's usual umbrella form was a 10 to 15 metre grid of shells with each row being tilted on the column head to provide north lighting and ventilation thus providing a saw-tooth cross section with all the shells braced to one another to reduce bending in the column. Candela was also on record as saying asymmetrical hypar umbrellas should not be attempted.

The Seymour Harris team were, of course, aware of the pioneering work of Pier Luigi Nervi (1891-1979), the 1961 Chiesa dell'Autostrada of Giovanni Michelucci (1891-1990) and other Italian concrete structures, a young member of the team, John Bloomer cites Italian concrete as being of great interest to Roberts.

The pioneering 1961 Apache Plaza enclosed shopping mall of St Anthony, Minnesota (demolished 2004), designed by Willard Lien Thorsen (1924-1998) had a central court, the roof of which was of ten inverted symmetrical hypar shells, 65' x 71', on single 28" square columns. The shells were of the same height, and braced each other, with Mondrian inspired clerestory fenestration (tornado damaged 1984) at the perimeter.


The market hall and subsequent phases was built on a steeply sloping site. The design is lowest at top of the slope so the view of the 1875-81 showpiece town hall (J H Abbey,1831-80) is uninterrupted and wraps round E H Ashburner's 1939 library, never challenging its monumental classicism. The design is highest at the bottom of the slope with a dramatic elevation to the ring road. The servicing of the market is entirely from the ring road with lift access to the various floors. Although the building reaches the height of four floors it feels quite human in scale.


The roof structure is made up of 21 freestanding 3'6" x 2'3"columns ranging from 11' to 24'6" tall each supporting, 5' off-centre, an asymmetrical shell, of four rectangular hypars This is against the recommendations of Felix Candela, the leading proponent in the field. Thus the shells cantilever 23 feet to one side of the column, and 33 feet to the other. The shells are 56' x 31' and 10' deep. The four hypars form an inverted umbrella. Here, at Huddersfield, the umbrellas are not connected to each other structurally for bracing; they each function independently, unlike the Candela precedent. These novel structures were developed by Jim Spillett, Joe Nicholls and Ken Davis of Leonards and refined through 1/24th resin model tests and computer analysis by Carlos Brebbia and his supervisor Hugh Tottenham at the Department of Civil Engineering of Southampton University. It is entirely possible that the developments in hypar structures made at Huddersfield are unique in the country, and possibly the world.

The term hyperbolic paraboloid describes the type of curves that the shell has. It is made up of a system of straight lines. Here the curves are achieved with hot rolled steel reinforcing and high quality insitu concrete with a 3/8" aggregate and sand of very hard Ballidon limestone. The upper surface was lined with ½" expanded polyurethane board, covered with roof felt that fairs rainwater funnel-like into a PVC pipe down the centre of the pillar.

Each shell weighs about 80 tons. In order to distribute their weight evenly at the column head they are 3" thick on the longer side and 7" inches thick on the shorter side, The soffit of each shows the impression of rustic board marking of the parallel planks of the Canadian spruce shuttering that runs along the length of the shell.

The shells are in four rows of four and one of five facing Queensgate. From north to south the rows alternate in height, and from west to east they step upwards, then down. This means there are gaps of 4'6" between each roof section.

Les Ratcliff (project designer for the cladding of the GPO Tower) and Malcolm Dobson of the Huddersfield company, Heywood Williams Ltd were responsible for finding a solution to allow glazing between the shells to perform in all wind and snow load conditions. They specified patent aluminium framed glazing suspended and fixed only from the upper hypar and devised concertina membranes of EDPM, a synthetic rubber, that allowed the glazing to perform between adjacent umbrellas that can move independently 2" in any direction; left and right, forwards and backwards, up and down.

On one level the roof design defines the circulation pattern through the building, but it also offers a striking link, in modern form, with the Gothic style of the old market building (opened 1880 demolished 1970) designed by local architect Edward Hughes (c1838 -1886), the function of which was replaced by the present building.


The architects' original design included concrete finishes to all elevations. The client demanded stone cladding, considering it to be sympathetic to the town's stone work.

There is more patent glazing over natural stone walling and expressed framework to the façades on Peel and Princess Streets, where there are direct entrances into the market hall, including a bridge from the adjacent car park. On this last entrance is the commemorative slate unveiled on the official opening of the market on 6 April 1970. The sculptor is not known.

On the north side, from Princess Alexandra Walk the two entrances to the market are through shopping arcades and the private owned commercial development (Superdrug to Dorothy Perkins) that is in a very different style and is of little architectural interest. If you stand on the Town Hall side of Peel Street you can see the architectural discontinuity or hiatus between the two parts of the development.

The Queensgate façade of the market hall displays five roof shells with patent curtain wall glazing with glazing bars synchronised with the roof lines. Below it is decorated with ceramic panels by Fritz Steller of the Square One Design Workshop of Snitterfield, Stratford upon Avon. The enormous relief panels (16' x 17') are proud between Elland Edge ashlar and over stone sneck cladding. The panels continue across the façade of the adjoining market hall shops, to make nine panels in all. To the right hand end is the later much bigger and double-sided tenth panel through which passes through the staircase that rises from Queensgate to the Piazza.

The work was said to be the largest ceramic sculpture in the world, being made from 50 tons of Stourbridge fire clay fired in a specially built reduction kiln at Snitterfield to biscuit temperature, making them acid rain and chemical resistant. The rust-brown colouring of the panels came from iron and manganese oxide.

The work is entitled "Articulation In Movement" Each panel has a representation of the mushroom like shells that are turned 90 degrees with the bas relief stalks, asymmetric and striated cap of each resembling a trumpet's bell being harmoniously aligned with adjoining ones. This gives feeling of movement right along the building. Around the stem of each are organic representations that reflect the nature of the goods available within the building.

The trees along Queensgate are from the original architect specified scheme.

The development has 10,000 square feet of glazing, 14,000 square feet of stonework and buff textured bonded brickwork that was laid with great expertise with masons laid-off from the construction of Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral. The quality of the masonry is never compromised in any remote or hidden part of the exterior. The building was not designed with the traditional "Mahogany front, deal back" philosophy of architectural practices.

The market's unique roofscape is best seen from the windows of the concert hall balcony of Huddersfield Town Hall, but failing access to that, the roof of the1969 Alfred Street multi-storey car park (Borough Architect, C E Aspinall) gives a reasonable view.


The interior was designed for 187 market stalls and 27 shop units, available singly or in multiple units. The design of the shops and stall units are not of particular interest but a few still have the characteristic design and examples of 1970 signage with serif italic lettering. The architect's design had the stalls clustered around the columns so the shells defined the circulation. The client eventually demanded more stalls be included. This caused a realignment dislocating the shell and circulation areas, limited sightlines, a maze for shoppers and a disappointed architect...
"The one place where modern architecture has really thought about the inner Huddersfield is in the new market hall. The designer here had a really difficult problem. It was a sloping site in which he had to fit this market hall. Although the outside was a bit glam, he really went to work on the inside. The firm was J Seymour Harris who do a lot of town centre schemes up and down the country, and whoever was the designer in that firm really did Huddersfield proud here. To cope with the slope and to fit everything in he used concrete mushroom columns at intervals - mushroom because they splay out at the top and this could have been a structural gimmick; but here that are used to define spaces, to relate them, to bring the light in from the top so that you are at one with the building itself. That combined with the fact that the stalls are not regimented has made it a marvellously human place, the opposite of most indoor shopping centres. It is in-fact, and this is pretty rare in Britain-a real modern market.
Ian Nairn, The Listener 28 August 1975
In the central panoptical structure, are the glazed former market offices at first floor level, beneath are waste disposal chutes and janitorial supplies. Stairs and lifts give access to the mezzanine floor below, which was designed with preparation areas and traders' rest rooms and storage cages. On the lower levels are further storage areas and loading bays.

The original space lighting was from boxed uplighters at about 8' high on each of the hall's columns. These are now disused and largely removed. The tiling to the lower part and the painting of the columns, the suspended down-lighters, fans, hanging baskets and banners and various treatments and films on the glazing are all recent additions.

On the Queensgate side of the hall are stairs to the heavily glazed mezzanine that was intended for use as a 260 seat restaurant. The terrazzo stairs used to reach this floor still have the original handrails and these were common to almost all the handrails inside and out. The restaurant never opened as such and was used as studio by Huddersfield Polytechnic from 1971 for many years, now as council offices. It has views across the market interior and from the adjoining roof terrace, a panoramic view across the east of the town. The terrace's balustrade is from the 1990s. The cast-concrete uplighters are original. The view of this elevation from Queensgate, when lit at night surprises many.

Beneath the restaurant, against the outside wall are 19 shop units that vary in depth alternately. So that from the outside the first floor is indented allowing the Steller ceramics that are mounted on the wall of the deeper units to delineate the trading spaces. (9 panels with 10 ashlar intervals).

The north wall is decorated with a metal relief "Commerce". This is made of black painted metal relief of semi abstract figures, again by Fritz Steller. At the left of the piece scenes of sowing, husbandry and harvesting can be seen. On the right are representations of local industries. In the middle is trade, the essence of the market with agricultural and manufactured goods.

Below and to the left in the corner of the hall is the Huddersfield Corporation's Coat of Arms, in stone, salvaged from the police station (built 1898, demolished 1967) formerly on the site. Nearby is a 1935 'Jubilee' K6 telephone kiosk to the designs of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880 - 1960). This gives another architectural link to the market hall of 1880. Sir Giles was the grandson of George Gilbert Scott (1811-78) in whose practice the architect of the 1880 market hall, Edward Hughes was for twelve years.

Architects Wood and Bloomer have both retired from Seymour Harris; Roberts had left by 1970 and set up his own practice. No record of any further concrete hypars in the UK has been found. All the engineers except the retired Spillett have remained in the industry. Steller is sculpting in Germany. His Huddersfield commission may still be the world's largest ceramic sculpture. The glazing designers left Heywoods and became the industry's experts, both say the market hall work remains a career high. Dobson still produces dramatic solutions. In 1974 the 3 sub-committee aldermen became the last Freemen of Huddersfield. Traum, Brebbia and Tottenham have all had academic careers of great distinction.

Other contractors

Quantity surveying, P A Fisher & Partners, General contractor from March 1968 Token Construction Co Ltd & from late 1968, Sir Robert McAlpine and Sons Ltd; Steelwork, Rom River Reinforcements Ltd; Stone supply, Samuel Gledhill & Son Ltd, Masonry, John F Shackleton & Son Ltd; Electrics, Phoenix Electrical; Sprinkler system, Walter Kiddes; Terrazzo, L Toffolo & Sons Ltd; Tiling, W Fisher & Sons (Tilers) Ltd.

Further reading

  • The Architect, Patent glazing for Huddersfield's new market hall, Sept 1972 p95
  • Architectural Review, Sep. 1970, p200
  • Building, 29 Sept 1972, p82
  • Concrete, Vol 3 No 4 Apr.1969, Shell roofs for the market hall, Huddersfield pp160-1
  • Concrete Quarterly, No 88
  • Huddersfield Market, Jan-Mar 1971 pp30-32
  • Glass Age, Huddersfield Market, Nov.1972 p40
  • Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 6 Apr. 1970
  • County Borough of Huddersfield, The official opening of the new market hall, 6 Apr 1970

Detail inside restaurant

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