The Tainan Xinhua Fruit and Vegetable Market opened in February with a broad utilitarian purpose at its heart. Filled with vibrant vendor stalls, the wholesale market provides sustenance for the Taiwanese city. And yet, with its green public space and ability to transform into a food production landscape in the future, the project has the gravitas of archetype. Just like with its Markthal in Rotterdam, completed almost a decade ago, Dutch firm MVRDV is once again reimagining the typology in order to make it more inclusive, future-facing and – yes – architecturally exciting.
The firm always begins by understanding the full scope of the project, and its implications for the greater community. As MVRDV explains in its press release, the Tainan market is “an important hub for Tainan’s food supply chain, but also as a destination for meeting, socializing, and taking in views of the surrounding landscape from the building’s accessible roof, thus promoting tourism in the region.” The building’s location is part of this ambition: It’s located between the city and the mountains, and can be accessed by both – and the abundant farmland around it – thanks to a nearby highway and public transport.
Reminiscent of a low-slung warehouse, the 12,331-square-metre structure is open on all sides and, thus, is passively ventilated. It features an undulating roof that steps down on its east corner to meet the ground plane. A series of terraces along this cascading edge is currently planted with multi-hued plants and flowers; in the future, these could be substituted with fruits and vegetables. “This would turn the roof into an educational farm,” the firm explains, “where visiting schoolchildren could learn about both how food is grown and the subsequent supply chain that delivers it to their plates.” (The local landscape architecture firm that collaborated on the project is The Urbanists Collaborative.)
Where the roof touches the ground, visitors are invited to climb up. This gesture of welcoming and embracing the public is made concrete with a series of stair cases that lead people to a view of the surrounding farmland – another link to the food production chain that is rendered both real and symbolic. Puncturing the roof is a four-storey cube with a roof – this one peaked – of its own; the building houses administrative spaces for the market, as well as an exhibition centre where agricultural products from the region can be displayed.
Completed in collaboration with LLJ Architects for Tainan City Government Agricultural Bureau, the wholesale market builds on MVRDV’s genre-pushing architecture. Not only a food market, it makes the mechanisms of food production visible to the public. Not only a piece of infrastructure – typical wholesale markets are iterated as simple metal sheds – it is encompassed in an architectural statement that aims at inclusivity. At once a commercial, institutional and public space, with the potential to one day grow its own food, the Tainan Xinhua Fruit and Vegetable Market is an experiment worth repeating.
MVRDV’s Tainan Market combines a utilitarian food distribution centre with inspiring public space.