When Alan Baxter founded his engineering and design practice in 1974, his bank manager strongly advised against buying an old warehouse in Cowcross Street, next to Smithfield Market. It was then still a faintly sinister area of London, travellers being relieved to hurry away with their steamer trunks.
Now, next-door Farringdon station is becoming one of the capital’s great transport hubs, being developed to provide a nexus between the Thameslink line and the promised Crossrail. Expect major transformations as a result. From Mr Baxter’s roof terrace, where he held a party to celebrate The Survey of London, we looked down on the Smithfield buildings.
How long can the meat market survive, now that most meat is sold in super-markets, which are supplied from abattoirs? Mr Baxter imagines a new Covent Garden, with food halls for City workers, not tourists. Cities need to evolve; they must also flow. ‘I’d like to work with a choreographer, who would orchestrate patterns of movement.’ Crowds ought to move as elegantly as people; awkwardness is ugly.
The Crossrail station should flow all right, as Mr Baxter has been involved in it. As for Cowcross Street’s new identity, he is rather regretful. Investment is bound to pour in, but he rather likes it as it is.