Benjamin Thompson, festival marketplace designer, dies at 84

Until Benjamin C. Thompson applied his imaginative touch, urban markets in the US mainly were somewhat grubby, underappreciated places that sold fish, meat, produce, and other necessities of life. The St. Paul-born, Yale-educated Thompson, who died August 17 at the age of 84, changed that with his 1976 transformation of Boston’s old Quincy Market into the attraction known as Faneuil Hall Marketplace.

“The city should not be a prison from which people want to flee; the city should be a prism of amenities,” said the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based architect. With developer James Rouse, he showed that middle-class and suburban Americans would throng to “festival markets,” first in Boston and then along the Inner Harbor in Baltimore.

Thompson took the growing enthusiasm for historic preservation and urban liveliness and gave it an enormously salable venue. Well-scrubbed and more upscale than the old markets on which they were based, festival marketplaces gave many people an appealing introduction to the pleasures of the city. Those who preferred urban grittiness faulted festival marketplaces for being an inadequate substitute for an economically diverse, not always spiffy city. But in the 1970s and early 1980s, Thompson’s invention helped overcome the fearful image many urban centers had suffered in the aftermath of the riots of the 1960s.

In the 1990s Thompson devised a vision of how to revitalize St. Paul’s riverfront as a lush, tree-filled “Great River Park” on the Mississippi. A stroke in 1994 prevented him from traveling to see his hometown’s reviving riverfront. A recipient of the American Institute of Architect Gold Medal, Thompson died at his home in Cambridge.