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A Case Study: Market Street on-site study evaluation Charleston, SC

Laura Sokol LAR 4304: Urban Open Space December 14, 2011

Introduction The first thing I was told repeatedly when I began to study Market Street was that it is a tourist trap. Squeezing through the crowds of gawkers and passing by the non-stop chatter of restaurant employees enticing you to come in for a slice of pie, I was convinced this statement was true. The location was the number one factor being situated on the same street as the cruise ship terminal. The tourists from the ships practically spilled off the boat right onto Market Street. The historical elements and charm were probably another major factor contributing to the attraction of primarily tourists. For such a well-preserved, in some places rebuilt market, the relationship on the inside of the market did not connect to the outdoor space. Nothing invited one to spend some time outdoors unless of course there was a table right outside the food hall. The relationship of the street and paralleling sidewalks lacked in connection. The overall stretch of Market Street seemed to be divided. These observations do all sound very critical but there were a few positive critiques as well. The object of this study is to understand why things didn’t work or did. Based off of site and user analysis and observations this study will highlight the qualities and criteria that are and should be part of this open space.


The hall of the market was constructed between 1803-1830. The market housed meat, vegetable and fish vendors who would rent the stalls for $1.00-2.00 a day. Market hall, pictured to the right, was constructed in 1841 for the use of meetings, social functions and additional market space below. It then housed the Daughters of the Confederacy Museum which is still present today. Since the 1970s, the market has housed unique vendors selling local crafts and novelties. Some of the products for sale include locally crafted sweetgrass baskets, clothing, artwork, jewelry, local souvenirs, perfumes, food, and other gift items.

Photo Credit: South Carolina Historical Society


Study Site Limits Market Street is located on the eastern edge of the peninsula. It intersects the major streets of King and Meeting. At the endpoint of the street onto the river is the terminal for cruise ships which makes the street a prominent attraction for tourists.

Zoomed-in Context

The major attraction for market street is primarily the market itself, hence the street name. When not in the area of the market, the street seems to lose it’s sense of magic since everything is so target towards the historic market. The street heading towards the Street Divisions direction of King St. was never heavily congested with foot traffic unlike the market area. Unless at a street corner of one of the major streets, King and Meeting, foot-traffic was always moving with no areas to stop and look around. The street past the market in the direction of the river had more restaurants and shops that brought people in off of the streets but the lack of trees and poor quality of the walkways didn’t quite convince someone to want to stop and take a rest.

Top Left Photo: Market Street towards King St Top Right Photo: Market Street towards the river Bottom Right: Market St. in location of the market.

Since the market comprises a majority of the street. I decided to focus specifically on this area by studying the relationship from the inside of the market to the outdoors. The diagram above displays an inventory of the site. It examines areas for seating, walkways, building types, streetside parking and location of outdoor vendors.


The market is surrounded by a one-way street with two-way intersections between each market building. When moving from one building to the next one must cross the vehicular intersection. Traffic here isn’t heavy but drivers and pedestrians are not very considerate of each other, they just move as they please. There is only on section (circled on the diagram) that is strictly pedestrian traffic. People just use the space to cross or stop and look at maps. The corner edges of this area have vendors that make the space a tight squeeze especially in the areas that are not designated for pedestrians. This is the only section where I saw benches. The people who sat down were either elderly or friends of the vendors so they could sit their and talk. The red boxes outline the thruways through the market and their lack of a relationship to the outdoor walkway. The exits from the market practically drop you out on the street. There is no offer of seating, or entryway into the building.

Access and Visual Cohesion

The outside of the market lacks in appearance and connection. As seen in the top left photo a wide walkway is separated from the road by bollards. This space was rarely ever utilized since most people would walk through the market. There was nothing to make someone want to use the space even trashcans were very scarce. The windows into the market were a nice visual element that could enhance a future design of this space. Through the windows a view inside of the busy market can be seen. On the opposite side of the market, a very narrow curb edged the market. This side is solely for parking. It’s a very awkward space. When one exits from the market to the outdoors they are directed right into the street. (as seen in the bottom photo)

Site Uses

Besides the function of the market, the street is used differently according to the time of day. When the vendors are present from morning to early evening, crowds usually form at the ends of the market buildings. People will stop and rest on the walls or occupy one of the three benches. During lunch hours the few tables outside of the food hall are occupied. At night, when the market is closed, the streetlife turns to the restaurants that parallel the market. Young adults will sit on the steps and hangout.

After critiquing Market Street, the positive aspects seemed to only pertain to the indoor environment of the market. The flow of movement from the one end to the next worked well with the arrangement of the vendors but it was so focused on getting people from entrance to exit that the design didn’t account for the surrounding outdoor environment. Relating to the Urban Open System Market street plays a role in it’s historic appeal. People are attracted to it because of the markets historic appearance. If the street looks interesting then the city looks interesting. Much of Charleston’s attraction applies to the historic district and Market Street is an extension of this. It can be accessed from major roadways such as King Street and Meeting Street which are part of the historic district. The economic benefit of the market is that it draws people to a location and promotes economic structure through combination of trade and exchange that drives the social community. FIT FORM FUNCTION of open space Overall, Market Street fits into the context of the city with it’s historical significance and identity which ties into the historical district. The form of the space, when evaluated through the qualities and criteria, was lacking. Overall, there seemed to be a huge disconnect throughout the street, the market and neighboring spaces. The function of the space was more of an economical one with being such a major attraction for tourists to come and buy local products and novelties. The social aspect was lacking, unless you were there to intentionally browse and spend money there was no other attraction. The market setting did encourage conversation from the seller to the consumer which was a nice way for tourists to interact with locals. Market Street has potential and opportunity to become a much better street. The city needs to start by implementing more and better amenities such as seating and outdoor trashcans. If a person wanted to take a break from perusing the market, they would step outside and have nowhere to sit and relax. Enhancements of entryways and exits could also make the transition throughout the street a more viable place.

Bibliography â&#x20AC;&#x153;History, Charleston City Market, Historic Downtown Charleston, SC.â&#x20AC;? Historic Charleston City Market, Charleston, SC. Web. 01 Dec. 2011. <>. Whitelaw, Robert N. S, and Alice F. Levkoff. Charleston, Come Hell or High Water. Charleston, S.C: A.F. Levkoff and Patti F. Whitelaw, 1976. Print.

case study: Market street, Charleston, SC  

An urban open space study of market street in Charleston, SC

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