Swansea Council invited experienced interior design companies to tender for Reimagining the Central Casual Area of Swansea Market, a key anchor for Swansea City Centre’s retail offer. The Market helps to differentiate Swansea from other city centres and had been voted Britain’s Best Indoor Market in 2020.
The outline brief was to create a welcoming, accessible and flexible multi-use communal area for seating, meeting, greeting, eating and events. The design also had to have an indoor garden/forest theme. The area allocated to the development was a 15.5 x 5m underutilised space, positioned just south of the central artery walkway through the Market. This space had traditionally been used for temporary stalls, monthly markets and small events/exhibitions, but with no cohesive structure, it was underused and had an air of neglect.
Tangent was awarded the contract after submission of an in-depth proposal showing how we could deliver a creative and functional installation, on budget and within the required timescale through our Coordinated Procurement Management system.
The award notification arrived just as Wales was emerging from the first full COVID lockdown, which impacted on how we handled our designer/client interface. For the first time, face-to-face meetings with the eight member client team were not possible. Microsoft Teams meetings were the agreed approach and our detailed programme scheduled nine full team meetings at agreed stages throughout the project, which was structured around RIBA 0-7 Stages and Key Tasks.
After presenting a detailed study of comparable establishments and examples of similar communal areas in markets across the UK and Europe, the brief was finely tuned through client consultation. The more common approach of a food-hall feel was rejected in favour of a more eclectic mix of zones and seating types, tied together by the umbrella of a verdant framework structure.
A presentation of five concepts was initially considered and honed to three preferred approaches, including a selection of possible names for the area. These were submitted to an open consultation process with councillors, traders and members of the public. To ensure maximum participation, an online questionnaire was launched in tandem with an exhibition and a carefully socially distanced public discussion within the Market. The results were analysed and the Pergola scheme and The Market Garden, referencing the original use of this space within the Market as a flower market, were the final choice.
As part of the project, Tangent were tasked to design and install a small casual trading stall in a separate part of the Market. This had to be designed, tendered and installed in advance of the main area to ensure availability of space for pop-up trading. Due to COVID restrictions this element of the project was delayed for six months. This allowed time for fine tuning of the central area design and careful visual coordination with the client’s branding. Tangent liaised with Accent Creative who handled this aspect of the work for the client and designed all necessary signage. We also engaged with the Council’s Disabilities Access Group regarding inclusivity, especially for the visually impaired and wheelchair users, fine tuning our design to accommodate their needs. In addition we worked with the Council’s nominated WiFi provider to ensure full coverage for the area.
Tangent handled a full competitive tender process for all elements of the installation to ensure the best possible value for the Council’s investment. As laid out in our original proposal, breaking the works down into small specialist trade packages and coordinating the site works in detail—having each contractor employed directly by the client – enabled us to avoid the overheads of a main contractor and ensured the best tradespeople for every element of the works.
The Market Garden incorporates a tubular steel, powder coated pergola with 14 arches, each 4.5 metres tall with 12 semi-circular high level planters, 14 base planters and two centrally linked top arches extending to 7.5 metres at their apex. It has a central suspension system connected up the 18.5 metre high arch of the Market roof. A vinyl safety flooring with specialist joinery constructed base planters, sit-up tables and water point unit complete the fixed elements of the area.
A removable recycling unit and free-standing, eclectic mix of coffee and dining height tables and chairs to suit the Garden theme complete the elements that can be removed and stored as necessary to reconfigure the area for events and exhibitions. The existing ambient lighting in the area has been augmented by colour changing LED lighting installed on the high arches at the top of the pergola. 170 real plants are installed in the pergola planters, carefully selected to thrive in the challenging environment of the Market, which fluctuates widely in temperature and lighting levels from winter to summer.
Other features include baby bottle/food warmers and a kennel-styled dog watering station at the water point plus a static play table for small visitors. Signage in the Council’s new branding include customer information in both Welsh and English and a 1.4 x 1.4 x 3 metre central identifier sign suspended from the top arch of the pergola.
The project took 16 months, including eight months of delays due to COVID restrictions and lockdowns. The installation programme was structured around a 6 week site availability, to be completed in time for Christmas trading. This was adhered to, including the additional installation of Christmas themed decorations ready for the opening day.
The Market Garden has been very well received by the traders and public alike. Comments such as these have been received on Swansea Council’s social media:
“It’s lovely, for people to stop off and have a chat, or rest their legs xx”
“It’s brilliant my little grandaughter loves the play area so handy for mums to have a cuppa and let the children play”
The facility has only been open for two months and receives very high traffic. All fixtures fittings and furniture are of a tough commercial contract quality and are wearing very well so far, but we will be monitoring the situation.
Our client said:
“We were delighted with Tangent’s approach to the commission Reimagining the Central Area of Swansea Market which they have executed diligently and with tenacity. Their project management and communication has been excellent throughout the process and they have listened and responded creatively to our needs at every juncture. The team also coped well with the unprecedented delays and strains of Covid as well as the skills shortages this caused. We are extremely pleased with the outcome; The Market Garden is proving to be a popular attraction and asset. I have no reservation in recommending Tangent for any hospitality design project.”
Lisa Wells, City Centre Manager
Photography is by Phil Rees and David Kerfoot.