Life, Fruits, and Veggies on the Street

The farmers market is one of America’s fastest growing expressions of public life. Since 1994, there has been a 448% increase in the number of farmers markets across the country as tracked by the USDA — 168 markets are currently listed in Texas by the organization.

The explosion in farmers markets across Texas' cities has gone hand-in-hand with an increasing awareness of the economics of food production, concerns over national health, and a desire to have a direct relationship with the producers of the food one consumes.

The typology of the markets is a relatively simple affair. They typically consist of stalls of approximately 100 sf, accessible circulation space, service access, limited water, limited power, and some restroom facilities. The temporary markets often find themselves in parking lots because the need for hard, accessible, easily cleanable surfaces. Temporary markets take over these spaces when they are not programmed for storing cars.

The Eastside Farmers Market, organized by Urban Harvest in Houston, is one such example. The parking lot becomes the market. The parking stalls become the vendor stalls. Parking shade structures provide shelter for some vendors, while others erect their own tents. In a slight variation, the Urban Harvest Highland Village market utilizes a large parking shade structure as a centralized are for vendors, entertainers, and shoppers. The Pearl Farmers Market in San Antonio is located in a parking lot at the Historic Peal Brewery and utilizes similar temporary structures. Examples of these same types of markets are found throughout Texas.

It is a salute to the program that these markets allow the otherwise anonymous spaces of a parking lot to become a lively center of 

Last updated: March 6, 2013

activity. Yet just because program and demand activate these spaces, there is no reason why the experience could not be better.

In the fall of 2012, Rice University School of Architecture students were given the problem of designing a new home for Urban Harvest. As part of the larger program, some of the students attempted to address the spatial needs of the market.

Essential to mitigating the harsh Texas sun and making outdoor space usable is shade. Many students saw addressing this need as the means by which the spaces could be structured and formalized. One project peels away the landscape to insert a plaza underneath. The delaminated landscape surface becomes the shade structure for the market below. Another project proposes a space of shelter that would evolve over time. Linear shade structures provide immediate shelter. Strategically placed trees would mature in the spaces between, providing a future second level of shade. A variation on this strategy proposes a “House of Landscape,” a unifying structure that unites market space, landscape, and gardens while allowing for trees and plants to grow within and around the structure.

As famers markets continue to be  a vital part of the urban experience, these spaces are tremendous opportunities for architects and landscape architects to help transform the city. With simple, well-conceived solutions, a vibrant program might be married with dynamic architectural expressions.

This article is expanded content for Texas Architect March/April 2013.