Shift AU creates research-by-design market to control COVID-19 contamination

Addressing the coronavirus pandemic, the Rotterdam-based architecture firm showcases a 4X4 grid model of a hyperlocal micro-market design that puts social distancing first.

by Shristi Nangalia Published on : Apr 27, 2020

The present pandemic has made us rethink the way we use our community spaces while making every effort to maintain social distance to contain the spread of coronavirus. However, since online shopping cannot replace physical outlets in terms of capacity, variety, accessibility and reach, supermarkets and independent retail shops remain a vital part of the food distribution infrastructure across the world. Consequently, management of customer movement to achieve physical distance becomes a challenge in the new context and hence it becomes imperative to rethink the design and functioning of local markets across the world.

Shift Architecture Urbanism (Shift AU) – a Rotterdam based design office has addressed this concern with a self-initiated research-by-design prototype of a safe hyperlocal-scale micro-market. Harm Timmermans, partner architect at Shift AU, describes the initial approach saying, “Apart from the medical infrastructure, the way food is circulated across the city plays an important role during the COVID-19 crisis. Supermarkets are most difficult to organise, since the interior layout does not allow for the ideal 1.5m distance between two people. Although public spaces and outdoor markets serve a large portion of customers, these are forced to shut down due to lack of management. Hence, as designers, we feel the need and responsibility to make a contribution.”

Centralised markets drive assemblage of shoppers | Hyperlocal micro markets in shutdown realities | Shift Architecture Urbanism | STIRworld
Centralised markets drive assemblage of shoppers Image Credit: Courtesy of Shift Architecture Urbanism

Shift AU's concept of this marketplace keeps the functionality of the fresh produce markets fully intact, while minimising the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The alternative to local markets proposed by the firm focuses on two main ideas - decentralising the open-air markets and creating a shopping environment that is not only risk-free but also convenient. In the proposal, large markets continue to exist in a different form, place and time.

Decentralised markets allow for dispersion of shoppers | Hyperlocal micro markets in shutdown realities | Shift Architecture Urbanism | STIRworld
Decentralised markets allow for dispersion of shoppers Image Credit: Courtesy of Shift Architecture Urbanism

The dissemination of the former concentrated model was broken down from large markets into multiple micro-markets that can be spread over the city and are open for a longer time to further reduce the assembly of people. In addition to releasing the pressure on supermarkets, the hyperlocal character of the project also limits the amount of travelling for customers through the city.

  • Neighbourhood square plan showing the proposed micro-market | Hyperlocal micro markets in shutdown realities | Shift Architecture Urbanism | STIRworld
    Neighbourhood square plan showing the proposed micro-market Image Credit: Courtesy of Shift Architecture Urbanism
  • The grid enables an organic flow for buyers | Hyperlocal micro markets in shutdown realities | Shift Architecture Urbanism | STIRworld
    The grid enables an organic flow for buyers Image Credit: Courtesy of Shift Architecture Urbanism

The design team connected with several politicians from progressive parties in Rotterdam and resultantly, the proposal was discussed during a Corona-crisis session at the City Council. The project has sparked a lot of enthusiastic responses from people working both inside and outside the food sector. Individual traders and the Dutch organisation of market traders (CVAH) have embraced, endorsed and published the project.

Delving into the practicality of the project, Timmermans argues that splitting up and dispersing the market is a fairly easy mechanism to apply, since the street market is composed of very flexible and mobile units. “Most market traders are used to relocating their stalls every day. Not only that, the realisation and implementation of the micro-market is easy and fast. It only needs standard products for traffic and crowd control that each municipality has in stock. Finally, the assignment of the different stalls over specific places of the city should be coordinated by the local authorities in cooperation with the market managers of the existing markets,” he suggests.

The designers worked on many layouts to arrive at this micro-market unit. At first, they worked around a linear 'walk through' concept; but the possibility of long queues would become challenging. They settled with a rectangular 4x4 grid concept that allows for a more natural movement of the customers, also achievable in varied combinations and formats.

The standard spatial setup consists of a 16-square grid aligned with three market stalls, each selling a different kind of fresh produce. People would wait in a distanced queue to get into the market, limited to a maximum of 6 people being allowed at one time. The grid offers people to approach any of the three stalls directly, or choose the one that is least busy at that particular time. The grid is marked on the pavement with highlighting stick-on tapes and barricaded off with standard stanchion, crowd control or crash barriers. The surplus space within the grid doubles as a waiting area for each stall. From the two available exits, people can choose the one that is nearest to their last stall to avoid contact.  

Thus, this adaptable market prototype makes shopping for fresh food easy as well as risk-free during vulnerable situations of viral threat. Owing to its straightforward and basic character, the design can be applied to flatten the curve of the coronavirus pandemic across the globe.

  • 01 min watch Each grid cell holds one person at a time to maintain distancing | Hyperlocal micro markets in shutdown realities | Shift Architecture Urbanism | STIRworld
    Each grid cell holds one person at a time to maintain distancing Video Credit: Courtesy of Shift Architecture Urbanism
  • The versatile micro-market design can be replicated in sports fields, neighbourhood squares and school yards alike | Hyperlocal micro markets in shutdown realities | Shift Architecture Urbanism | STIRworld
    The versatile micro-market design can be replicated in sports fields, neighbourhood squares and school yards alike Image Credit: Courtesy of Shift Architecture Urbanism

Discussing the current status of mobilisation of the idea, Timmermans says, “So far, the strict rules of safety imposed on the region do not allow any public gathering in the public spaces of the city, including open air markets. We hope the idea will be carried out across the cities as soon as possible, once the bureaucrats recognise that the prototype is perfectly in tune with the lockdown.”

Project Details

Name of the project: Hyperlocal micro markets in shutdown realities
Architectural firm: Shift Architecture Urbanism
Firm location: Rotterdam, NL
Design team: Thijs van Bijsterveldt, Oana Rades, Harm Timmermans, Karolina Kowalczyk, Ema Dunkić 

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