On September 25, 1974, a lone worker was repairing a set of steel tracks inside Seattle’s Municipal Market Building when the flames from his cutting torch shot past their target and started a large fire. Located at the northwest corner of Pike Place Market, the building was a 1920s expansion to the market connected over Western Avenue via the Desimone Bridge. After the fire demolition crews cleared the debris, turned the site into a paved parking lot, and closed off the bridge. For years the site sat underutilized and ignored.
Now, more than four decades, 200 public meetings, and eight feasibility studies later, the plot that once held the Municipal Market Building is once again a thriving asset of Pike Place. Officially opened this summer, the MarketFront addition features a new pavilion for vendors, several art installations, the Producers Hall (stocked with artisanal purveyors including Old Stove Brewing Co. and indi chocolate), the Market Commons neighborhood center, and 40 new units of low-income senior housing. A rectangular platform overlooking the Seattle Aquarium will serve as a future connector to waterfront, and a series of open spaces, plazas, and ramps link retail spaces and allow visitors panoramic views of Mt. Rainier and the Olympic Mountains.
“When the Alaskan Way Viaduct comes down, this area will serve as a crucial connection between the downtown core and the waterfront,” says architect David Miller founding partner of The Miller Hull Partnership, the firm that designed the new addition. Pike Place Market has an intricate, storied history—locals and visitors alike revere it, and there was concern that a modern addition would feel at odds with the existing buildings. “We wanted to continue the expression of the historic district through an industrial material palette using concrete, steel, wood beams,” Miller continues, “but we also tried to use that material language to give the addition a more contemporary expression that isn’t trapped by the past.”
Working closely with landscape architecture firm Berger Partnership and general contractor Sellen Construction, Miller Hull created accessible spaces that allow pedestrians to easily flow through the addition via a series of ramps and stairways. From Pike Place visitors can enter the MarketFront through the redeveloped Desimone Bridge. The steel-and-glass Pavilion—an open-air structure that has roll-up glass doors that allow for views of Elliott Bay in any weather—hosts local artisans and farmers during the day. Just outside the Pavilion the Plaza provides rows of stadium-style seating, and custom metal planter boxes with native foliage flank the concrete walkways.
“Given that the market sees 10 million visitors each year, the materials we used needed to be incredibly durable,” says Jonathan Morley, a principal at Berger Partnership who led the firm’s involvement in the project. “This wasn’t about fancy finishes or flashy touches. It was important that we keep the function of the market in mind first and uphold the character of the historic space.”
In addition to the Pavilion the design team added the Producers Hall, tucked away under the Plaza. In addition to Old Stove Brewing and indi chocolate, vendors such as Honest Biscuits and Little Fish populate the space, requiring ventilation stacks that emerge through the area directly above it. “It was tricky to get everything lined up so that we not only met code, but there wasn’t a huge eye sore in the middle of this beautiful new space,” Miller notes. The sets of stacks, which emerge through the Plaza, are enclosed in light aqua-colored steel cages that match the window frames of the Pavilion, allowing the eye to scan the length of the building without being visually waylaid.
Additional touches include public art in three places (the beloved bronze piggy bank “Billie” was moved from her home at Western Avenue to the top of the MarkFront expansion where she greets visitors just outside the Desimone Bridge), and a galvanized metal railing running the length of the MarketFront sports more than 5,000 metal charms, each engraved with the name of project donors. “It was a creative way to work in donor recognition and have it feel organic,” Morley says. “The interaction of nature, the wind, and the sun, subtly bring the charms to life.”
The new addition, which took two years to complete, officially opened at the end of June, and all parties involved admit that they waited for the public’s response with bated breath. “I was a bit nervous as to how it would be received,” Miller says. “Pike Place Market is the soul of our city, so you want to uphold the positive legacy at every step. So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.”
“Part of what everyone loves about the market is the exploration aspect,” adds Morely, “and we wanted to continue that with the expansion. You’re constantly discovering new shops, new food, and meeting new people when you come for a visit. You can walk in, work your way from one end of the other, then take a completely new route on your way back. We wanted to continue this sense of discovery with our design.”