Market Performance

PROJECT Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market
ARCHITECT Lydon Lynch Architects
TEXT Michael Carroll
PHOTOS James Ingram

The Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market, opened in 2010, is one of those projects in which the client, program, site and underlying philosophies of the architect align to create a case-study project that addresses issues of sustainable design from the macro to the micro scale.

In terms of the client and program, the building is owned and developed by the Halifax Port Authority and is leased to the Halifax Farmers’ Market Cooperative. The Cooperative was founded in 1750 and is the oldest continuously running farmers’ market in North America. The current market houses over 200 vendors selling high-quality local products from food to crafts. Within the 40,000-square-foot expanse of the new market, sited in Pier 20 on the Halifax waterfront, it is apparent that the building design not only encompasses but amplifies the Cooperative’s inherent philosophy and focus on environmental stewardship and the careful use of limited resources. A symbiotic relationship exists between the market’s content and its LEED Platinum “architectural container”–both highly invested in reducing their impact on the immediate and extended environments in which they operate.

In terms of site, the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market is a stellar example of adaptive reuse and incisive architectural intervention. From the 1970s to the 1990s, the piers consisted of a vast, underutilized set of warehouses that stretched about 2,000 feet along the Halifax waterfront. Before this area was redeveloped, one could walk or even bike through the semi-abandoned warehouses, where pigeons would fly through the large open doors that offered dramatic views of nearby George’s Islands. Lydon Lynch Architects have managed to keep the industrial memory of the piers alive through reusing the original structure of Pier 20 as its primary skeleton, with the existing roof deck planking reinstated and left exposed to the interior. 

The 16-bay steel truss structure is a robust architectural statement, which is further amplified as the building delaminates northward to address a new civic square that links the market and the nearby offices of the Halifax Port Authority to the harbour, as well as the southern gateway to the Halifax Waterfront Boardwalk. This semi-enclosed, northern end of the market building is architecturally the most complex and compelling of the entire project. The looming roof canopy and the exposed trusses and columns define a generous outdoor urban room that forms not only the north entry to the market but also extends and shelters a ground-level terrace, along with a second-storey balcony that projects eastward towards Halifax Harbour. 

Within the rigour of the existing 16-bay structure of Pier 20, various architectural elements have been inserted. From an exterior perspective, the most dramatic and transformative architectural intervention to the existing building is the presence of four three-storey solar lanterns that allow an abundance of natural daylight into the market space and provide a vertical flue for passive ventilation. The glass lanterns also enhance the transparency of the existing structure and connect the cityscape to the harbour, or, more abstractly, the land to the sea. From the interior, the glass lanterns mark two entrances along Marginal Road. The middle two lanterns flank one of the main architectural elements of the whole project–a grand staircase that leads the public from the ground-level market stalls to a mezzanine that lines the west side of the market. Double-height volumes demarcate the zones where the mezzanine intersects the lanterns to achieve maximum transparency through the building. As one moves through the central staircase, it is apparent that this is the heart of the project, where conversations, musical performances, and people-watching occur. To mark this central zone, a bio-wall has been installed not only for visual interest, but also to help filter the air and improve its quality. From the vantage point of the mezzanine, the zoning of the ground floor below becomes apparent. The main floor slab is designed to accommodate three different zones–one strip has only electrical outlets, the middle strip has water and electrical, and the third strip, directly below the mezzanine, is equipped with gas. In turn, the stalls are organized according to their needs. Craft stalls that only need electrical are zoned along the eastern edge of the building, while the fully equipped stalls that serve prepared food line the opposite side of the market.

Not only did the building reuse the existing steel structure of Pier 20, but most of the concrete was crushed on site for reuse in order to reduce the need for both new materials and to increase the diversion rate to the local landfill. In keeping with the philosophy of a “green market,” building products were sourced locally where possible, the result being that one-third of all the materials used came from the region. Also, given the project’s proximity to the ocean and a nearby rail yard, any additional products sourced from outside the region were delivered by train or ship. In accordance with LEED Platinum criteria, sustainable wood products were used in construction with most wood products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. As an added feature, the wood used for parts of the stairs, handrails, counters and benches within the market’s interior was salvaged from Hurricane Juan that devastated nearby Point Pleasant Park in 2003. The salvaged wood, with its more distinct wood-grain pattern, colouring and patina, adds an interesting texture and depth to the detail of the overall project.

Perhaps one of the most hidden architectural interventions to the original Pier 20 building is perhaps its most successful. It is one of the largest green roofs in North America and is located on top of the farmers’ market. The reasons for the green roof were many; however, one of the primary motivations was the designation of the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market as an international port and cruise-ship terminal. Because of this allocation, ground-level access to the seawall by the public was not possible; therefore, the rooftop was developed as an alternative area to offer uninterrupted views of Halifax Harbour and St. George’s Island. As Keith Tufts, lead architect of the project commented, the resulting rooftop is a grand urban room available for the public to enjoy. Accessible through stairs and elevators from below, the generous roof deck proves to be a memorable space–a grand promenade in the sky with expansive pergolas and seating. An uninterrupted glass railing on the deck’s eastern side overlooks a well-established green roof that is planted with 10 different species of sedum. The undulating pattern of various plants and the subtle gradation of colour create a green roof that is not only visually compelling but also forms an eco-system that supports local insect species. To add to the drama of the roof, four 2 kW microwind turbines tower at the edge of the building, their blades slowly turning with the gentle ocean breeze. 

At the northern end of the roof is a projection that houses the offices of Lydon Lynch Architects. Ample glazing offers uninterrupted views of the green roof, the city and the ocean. On top of this projection is an extensive array of solar evacuated tubes that provide heat for hot water and space heating. In addition to the solar tubes, 17 geothermal wells drilled to a depth of 650 feet are sited in front of the market. As an added bonus, extra solar heat capturd during the summer can be stored in the geothermal wells for use in colder months. LED lights embedded in the concrete sidewalk along Marginal Road denote the location of each wel
l, another subtle feature used by the architects to reinforce the interconnection of the project’s various systems. 

In terms of water, the market is designed to reduce its consumption. Water is collected from the roof in a 10,000-gallon cistern which holds grey water that is used for the market’s non-potable requirements. The building is also designed to deliver 100% fresh-air ventilation with zero air conditioning. If the mechanical system is used, warm air is chilled with the help of a seawater cooling coil. 

As in any architectural project designed within the confines of sustainable design, the questions about its success extend beyond the formal to the performative. Does the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market deliver on its promises? How can it be calibrated and adapted to the changing uses of a seasonal food market? How can the building act as a didactic device that demonstrates to users its day-to-day performance? The answers to these questions are addressed in part by the fact that the building’s energy, water and indoor air quality are constantly monitored, reported and controlled by the owner. The building is heavily metered and sensored to measure effectiveness and usage through various control packages linked to an Energy Management Control System (EMCS). 

In terms of disseminating this information to the public, a large flat-screen monitor displays monthly averages of the market’s energy use and how this compares to a similar-sized building built in 1980. On this day, the reading shows that the market has consumed a monthly average of 160 million BTUs compared to 300 million BTUs in the 1980 model. The reading is further broken down to show monthly and daily percentages of energy generated by solar, wind and geothermal energy as well as water use and CO2 emissions. 

Given the paradigm shift that has occurred in architecture with the emphasis on sustainable and generative design, architecture no longer exists as a formal exercise; it has been transformed into a more organic entity. Given the emphasis on performance, architecture now exists as a kind of open-ended experiment that must be calibrated in order to be a highly responsive, energy-efficient system. Perhaps one of the most endearing facts about the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market is the architect’s continued investment in the project. Lydon Lynch Architects as long-term tenant of the building, perched on its roof, are truly the ones who are constantly assessing the building’s performance as they monitor on a daily basis the various operations of the building. In this regard, it is not only scientific facts and counts that matter, but also the richness of experience that the market continues to deliver on a daily basis. As the vendors and buyers come and go, the green roof blooms and the wind turbines spin. CA

Michael Carroll is based in Atlanta and is an Assistant Professor of Architecture at SP_ARC (Southern Polytechnic State University Department of Architecture).