An unexpected elegance

Sarah Micallef - 26th June 2016

The new eCABS booking office has been described as an elegant beacon in the otherwise chaotic surroundings of Paceville’s busy streets. Valentino Architects, the firm behind the office’s stunning transformation, discusses the project.

Particularly among the young generations of revellers who regularly take to the streets of Paceville for a night on the town, the name eCABS has become synonymous with a safe and reliable way to get home when the night is through. Every weekend, hordes of teens make their way to the booking office in St Julian’s looking for a cab home, but as of a few months ago, the scene they are met with is wildly different to the shabby setting we have come to associate with taxi offices. While the neon sign remains, the eCABS booking office – the very same one that the business started out of six years ago – has been transformed into a streamlined, attractive space that you’d be glad to hang out in.

The firm behind the transformation is Valentino Architects, whose fresh new design for the booking office was carried out by main contractor, Halmann Vella Ltd.

Architects Peter and Sandro Valentino talk me through their brief for the space, asserting that a large part of the project was aimed at challenging the negative stigma often associated with taxi services. “The taxi industry suffers from a bit of a stigma, and through this office, eCABS wanted to continue changing this image, and attract more people to the industry,” they explain.

As part of their research for the project, the architects paid a visit to the booking office on a weekend, which shed light on a number of issues that the design needed to address. “On Friday and Saturday nights, it was like a jungle: drunk people asleep outside, a broken glass door and discarded food. A big part of our brief was considering how to control everything that was happening. As a company, eCABS is all about efficiency, and for the booking office, function and durability had to take priority,” explains Sandro.

The design Valentino Architects created incorporates a canopy that extends from the façade, which is visible for people coming from different directions. The glass doors were moved inwards, creating a sheltered area outside in which people can wait for their cabs. A ramp replaced the previous step, making the office fully accessible, and a partition at the back creates access to the toilet and basement. Meanwhile, the desk is now positioned along the side of the room rather than at the back, making it visible from the outside and closer to the doors.

The material they chose to go with for the walls, floor and desk is terrazzo, which was specifically created for the project by Halmann. “They were really excited about the project because this material is generally used in tile format, and this gave them the chance to produce it differently and really show off what they can do,” says Sandro.

Works on site took an impressive three weeks to complete – a strict timeframe imposed on the team by the nature of the business. “The office actually kept on running while works were ongoing. They put a desk outside and didn’t lose a single booking,” Sandro explains.

In order to achieve this, the team at Valentino Architects engaged a surveyor to carry out an accurate survey of the dimensions of the office beforehand – and passed it on to the contractor. “They had accurate drawings of every piece that they were required to cut – everything pre-measured according to the survey. As soon as works started, the workers gutted everything and the terrazzo slabs came ready according to the measurements and were assembled like a jigsaw puzzle,” says Sandro.

Meanwhile, seating inside comes in the form of a single bench crafted out of iroko wood – a change from the architects’ original intention. “We initially proposed stools instead of a bench – this was the only thing the client asked to change from our original design. It turned out to be a very good contribution, as it looks great aesthetically and is more coherent with the quality of the space that we wanted to achieve,” Peter explains.

A distinctive element of the new design is the use of curves rather than corners – a feature that is as practical as it is attractive. “You don’t have a corner where dirt can collect – you just hose it down and it all goes straight down into the gutters at the door,” Peter maintains. As for the entrance, the broken glass door was replaced with a specifically designed glass door that opens automatically and slides away into pockets concealed in the wall. This will prevent it from suffering the same fate.

Asked what they consider to be the main defining features of the new booking office, Peter points to the use of materials as an important element, apart from efficiency. “The fact that the materials used are limited and honest – iroko wood, mirror and galvanized steel, apart from terrazzo – is a defining feature, as well as the fact that it looks like it’s carved out of one object, as if it is one body.”

And indeed, as leading architect Konrad Buhagiar affirms in his description of the project on Valentino Architects’ portfolio, “it was imperative that the outlet should stand out from the surrounding chaos and formal incoherence, and this it could achieve by offering, in contrast, its own purity and seamlessness. In so doing it has become an elegant beacon in the area.”

This is a snippet. Read the full story on the latest issue of The Commercial Courier.  

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An unexpected elegance