When people talk about Architecture, the word ‘iconic’ is often overused. But when it comes to the architecture of Leeds, we don’t often talk about our icons.
I love a good building. I enjoy clever architecture. Colours, textures and materials fascinate me. But for me, a building has to be more than a collection of these to be an icon. It has to form the heart of a place. It has to have heart. It has to be in peoples hearts. For me, Leeds’ greatest icon is Kirkgate Market.
The Grade I listed Kirkgate Market hall is fantastic. Built at the birth of the city, and the largest indoor market in Europe, Leeds has grown around it. The building itself is one of the true landmarks of the city, used by locals and tourists alike for wayfaring. Build yourself a mental map of the city and the Market is likely to be one of the pins.
The architecture itself might be seen as being a little over the top. The luxury of the exterior is a bit excessive, with domes, spires, lanterns and all sorts of other twiddly bits. The interior is vast with massive glazed ceilings and decorative metalwork. It wouldn’t be built these days, but it’s a symbol of Leeds’ industrial past, of pride in the city, its produce and its enterprise.
But what makes it a place in its own right – rather than just a building – is life of it. By virtue of its function, it’s full of life, of colour, eccentricity and ethnicity. It’s not just a cathedral to shopping, but a place for art, food, music and performance. It’s open to everyone and used by a cross section of the population. As a child I found its bustle intimidating, but I was still always fascinated by the sensory experience that was a market trip. It’s not just visually impacting, but loud and quite frequently smelly. It’s real. Kirkgate Market occupies the social, visual, functional, temporal and perceptual identity of Leeds as a city. There aren’t many other buildings, places or spaces that do that.
I hope beyond hope that the breadth of the Market’s value is appreciated -that the building isn’t seen as a maintenance black hole and mothballed, or turned into an upmarket food hall. It should change with the times, but the value of the place in its totality has to be understood. It has to be championed protected and preserved, otherwise the city will lose its icon. It wouldn’t be one if it was just a building.
The indoor market is open Monday to Wednesday 8am to 530pm and Thursday to Saturday 730am to 530pm. There are also outdoor markets and speciality markets. More information can be found at www.leedsmarkets.co.uk or twitter.com/leedsmarkets