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AIA Facebook Young Designers Challenge Winner: Market for T-City Builds an Urban Market Place by Subtraction

Omar Rodriguez Lavandero, Assoc. AIA, uses synthetic landscape topography to reconcile commerce and public space

by Zach Mortice, Associate Editor

Market for T-City is sheathed in a photovoltaic panel-powered glowing LED cloth.

The market’s interior spaces are carved out like geological strata; canyons, caverns, hills, and gullies

The market draws its abstract, asymmetrical shape from its irregular site.

On the market’s roof is a park-like public square.

All images courtesy of Omar Rodriguez Lavandero


Market for T-City, designed by Omar Rodriguez Lavandero, Assoc. AIA, begins by turning one of the most basic assumptions about design and architecture on its head. Typically, buildings begin with nothing. A frame is constructed, then clad in an exterior material. Thus, an enclosure is created, generating interior space. Market for T-City begins with a solid mass and then carves out interior sections. Interior space is created, which is by definition enclosed.

For Rodriguez Lavandero, winner of the AIA Facebook Young Designers Challenge, coupling this approach with flexibly inventive programming creates an unrivaled urban porosity in a public mixed-use marketplace. Market for T-City seeks to break the chain of discrete, self-contained commercial developments that separate people into divided camps of consumer demographics by offering an open, egalitarian place for people to shop, to see and be seen, experience the entire social fabric of their city, and subsequently, for the city to become aware of itself.

Commerce and the public realm

Rodriguez Lavandero received a MArch from the University of Colorado-Denver in 2005 and currently runs his own Denver-based design studio called 3D Metaphors. He originally came up with the concept for Market for T-City for another competition that asked for urban marketplace designs.

His project is as much a template for a new way of building as it is a single design. Its hypothetical site is in the hypothetical T-City, near the border of K-City. The two cities are engaged in a real estate-driven conflict for tax base revenue and have been haphazardly developing this border area. Both cities lack coherent urban development strategies, and have placed short-term revenue over the long-term health of their urban fabric. New plots of land are consistently being parceled out and branded into single-use commercial developments catering to different consumer groups; malls, department stores, strip malls. Because open public spaces and parks generate no rental or profits, no one with the money to change the shape of the city advocates for them. “The result, of course, is the loss of public spaces,” says Rodriguez Lavandero. The city becomes more and more stratified and segregated by consumerist economic divisions and it loses touch with its own wealth of diversity.

“For me, that’s not a very sustainable way of living,” he says.

Elemental inevitability

So Rodriguez Lavandero says he decided to “create my own landscape” that would enable commercial activity, but would also foster a Central Park-like sense of open, democratic urbanism within a sustainable building. He began his design with a basic rectangular mass made of a mutable mesh-sponge structure. He envisions the Market for T-City taking shape by carving out sections of the mesh sponge to create interior spaces; construction by subtraction. The materials removed in this way (Rodriguez Lavandero says any material could be used for the market—wood, steel, glass) could then be recycled into interior retail stalls, doors, and other structures. This way of building places very few limits on form. “It’s potentially open to any type of shape you want,” he says.

The result is a topographically rich expression that’s difficult to achieve for buildings conceived the traditional way. By tunneling out spaces like this, a sense of organic landscape emerges—at times cavernous, sloping, and canyon-like. The structure reminds one of slowly evolving geologic strata rather than ceilings, walls, and floors. Instead of millions of years of erosion from wind and water and punishing subterranean forces, Market for T-City is formed by the rivers of people that will flow through it, carving out spaces as elementally inevitable as millennia-old creek beds and glacier-sculpted mountains. The market’s quasi-landscapes lend the project an air of permanence and dignity, a far cry from the shouting logos, signs, and billboards that typically define retail environments. Such a synthetic landscape blurs the boundaries between interior and exterior space, creating a hybridized relationship to the city. It becomes a public forum with the programming of a commercial marketplace, all within the spatial presence of a natural landscape.

Market for T-City’s shapes are abstract, irregular, and asymmetrical, with multi-story views and cantilevered masses. Rodriguez Lavandero says he drew the form of the market from its irregularly-shaped site and from basic structural requirements, not from any formally-guided and self-conscious desire to differentiate it from the orthogonal and rectilinear shapes in typical commercial projects. But nevertheless, that’s the effect. Market for T-City’s Piranesian complexity promises to show visitors that retail environments can be highly experiential places. Most retail developments use space to focus the eye on the next product to be bought in a sequential, linear fashion. Market for T-City lifts these blinders and asks consumers to take in the entirety of their environment and shop as if they’re taking a walk through an unexplored park or neighborhood.


Market for T-City’s circulation patterns increase its urban porosity. Its pedestrian walkways loop each other, it’s adjacent to a rail station, and is accessible by foot, by bicycle via ramps, and by car. On the ground floor, the market is dominated by cavernous parking areas where retailers can park and sell their products out of truck beds or car trunks: house wares, food, artisanal crafts, etc. Rodriguez Lanvandero also envisions rental stalls and storage spaces, and perhaps even hydroponic farms. The second floor is a twisting, layered level of bazaars and shops. The top level is a topographic outdoor public square with walkways across the market roof. Photovoltaic panels soak up sunlight and use it to power a LED cloth; a flexible fabric that sheaths the building, lighting it and making it glow at night.

Urban public spaces and privatized retail areas have developed a strongly inverse relationship: as retail areas grow, public space seems to consistently contract. Market for T-City reconciles these two needs, first carving out space in the building for commerce, and then carving out public space in the city.

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