New market pragmatism, Cachan (FA)

By offering a raw, colourful public space on a tight budget, croixmariebourdon succeeds in joining today’s needs with flexibility for tomorrow.

France – TEXT: Anna Yudina, PHOTOGRAPHY: Luc Boegly

‘Half of the Paris region must have followed the construction of the Cachan market’, says architect Thomas Bourdon, and this is almost not a joke. Serving Cachan and two adjacent towns, the new market hall overlooks the railway that transports thousands of commuters on a daily basis. The project by Paris-based office croixmariebourdon is part of a redevelopment scheme triggered by the arrival of Grand Paris Express in 2022, which is shifting a few things in Cachan. With the old market hall to be replaced by the future GPE station, its former parking lot is now occupied by the new market building.

When Nicolas Croixmarie and Thomas Bourdon came on board as one of the teams selected to make proposals for the new market, the urban project was still at an early stage. The placement proposed by croixmariebourdon integrated the market into the circulation flow from the train station towards the town, with an esplanade connecting the two buildings and offering additional market space. To reinforce the rapport with the transportation hub, they created an articulated frontage whose cantilevered bay window acts as a large display of the market’s inner life and forms a protective canopy for street vendors. When an office building will be built in front of the market, it will be raised on stilts, extending the esplanade and preserving the visual connection between the market and the passing trains.

The duo had never built market halls before, but they have already dealt with public projects that raised similar questions. How would a design facilitate a specific usage while remaining flexible enough for future repurposing? How should a public building engage with the surroundings outside its working hours?

‘Having its own market increases a town’s appeal. And it’s certainly more humane than shopping in a hypermarket,’ says Nicolas Croixmarie. One thing the team had to wrap their heads around was the fact that the market would only be open twice a week. Alternative uses being ruled out by strict hygienic requirements, most of the time the structure was meant to be experienced only from the outside. To keep the building alive as a public space, the architects clad its canopied frontage in matt and polished stainless steel, creating an ‘urban gallery’, illuminated at night and highly practicable throughout the week due to its proximity to one of France’s top engineering schools.

Inside, an array of ‘plug-and-play’ terminals supplies traders with water and electricity, and enables differentiated meter charges for individual businesses, stimulating their energy-savviness. Modular platforms allocate the stalls, while overhead panels in perforated sheet steel are used for mounting lamps, cabling, and signage. Workshops with traders helped to identify their needs and determine the floor plan. A set of design rules made it possible to avoid stylistic chaos while leaving enough flexibility for the traders to personalize their stalls. Assembled from colourful steel sheets, the ceiling appears as a flying patchwork that echoes the lively colours of the market’s ordered mess.

A series of multifunctional solutions respond to two major constraints: minimize the impact on the ground and fit into the tight budget. Two concrete walls – with a strip of service spaces contained within the rear wall – are the only structural parts that rely upon the ground. All ceiling elements are held by the timber structure of the roof. Doing without sound-absorbing panels, the architects used the corrugated and perforated ceiling to create a balanced acoustic environment where noise is mitigated but not completely hushed (otherwise the market would feel empty). Robust wooden beams allow for a column-free space whose exposed roof structure refers to older generations of industrial halls. The south facade is closed to avoid direct sunlight, while the open east and west facades provide natural light and ventilation. Diagonal braces of the sloped roof enable clerestory windows that bring light into the central part of the hall. The use of timber for the roof and lateral facades lightens the building’s weight and creates a warm, welcoming feel. Prefabrication has sped up the construction works: with the GPE ground tests scheduled for a particular deadline, the market had to be promptly moved to the new building. 

Structurally simple, the project is full of variety and contrasts. The frontage is minimalist, assertive and interactive, whereas the interior is colourful, raw, and pragmatic. The three-dimensional pattern of the lateral walls adds rhythm and loftiness, while the rear facade seeks to blend with the park that stretches out all the way towards the centre of Cachan.


Cachan Market Hall, 2013–2014, Architect: croixmariebourdon architectures, Established: 2003, Client: Municipality of Cachan, Address: 5, avenue Léon Eyrolles, Cachan, Info:


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