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Smithfield Poultry Market
Charterhouse Street, London EC1, UK
associated engineer
Ove Arup & Partners
Povl Ahm
Ronald Jenkins
date  1961 - 1963
era  Modern  |  category  Building  |  reference  TQ315817
The interior of Smithfield Poultry Market is one of those hidden London gems people always talk about. From the outside, the building has little to make you notice it but inside, the huge clear span concrete shell roof soars gloriously overhead. The technology for this type of construction was developed by Ove Arup and Ronald Jenkins, and they had earlier applied it at the Brynmawr Rubber Factory (1951), now demolished.
The Poultry Market building sits at the western end of the Smithfield market complex, east of Farringdon Road in central London. The section of nineteenth century market building on the site had been destroyed by fire in 1958. The architect for its replacement was T.P. Bennett & Son (Sir Thomas Bennett). Povl Ahm lead the structural engineering team for Ove Arup & Partners.
The concrete shell roof at Smithfield is a much more ambitious than Arup and Jenkins had undertaken at Brynmawr. The single shell here measures 68.6m by 38.1m, more than five times the area of the shells used there, where a group of nine bays in three-by-three formation used shells measuring 25.9m by 18.9m.
The Smithfield dome is described as an elliptical paraboloid. It's supported by pre-stressed edge beams, which was a new approach. It was cast in situ onto precision formwork, and as the reinforcing cables were tensioned to pre-stress the edge beams, the entire shell was lifted clear of the formwork.
The shell is just 75mm across the full area and meets the lower structure at each corner on seemingly impossibly-slender supports, hence the 'floating' impression. Clerestory glazing, similar to that at Brynmawr in curved-top shape set by the geometry of the roof, floods daylight in the market hall. The shell is also dotted with small circular windows across its central area.
The rise of the dome is just 9.1m, representing an advance in concrete shell technology and confirming Arup's and Jenkinsí confidence in their structural analysis. Jenkins was a co-founder of Ove Arup & Partners and a specialist in the mathematics of shell structures. The calculations were put to the test before construction by the assessment of a 1/12th scale model.
This display of pre-stressed concrete mastery is typical of the 1960s, when 'everything was possible' and there was a real sense of optimism, adventure and derring-do in architecture and engineering. In concrete shell construction, the particular combination of knowhow, ambition and expertise has rarely been seen since. A comparison can be made with Owen Williamsí BOAC Maintenance Headquarters at Heathrow.
At Smithfield, the Poultry Market structure was intended to be replicated across the whole site, replacing the old complex entirely. In the event, only this one shell was constucted.
Supervising engineer: Povl Ahm
Architect: T.P. Bennett & Son
Research: ND
"Design for the Dome Shell Roof for Smithfield Poultry Market"
by Povl Ahm and Edwin John Perry
Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Vol. 30, Issue 1

Smithfield Poultry Market