The first edition of the Premju Emanuele Luigi Galizia awards, the ceremony for which was held last June, was the fulfilment of a long-held ambition of the Kamra tal-Periti – to run a design awards programme for its members, within which the work of its periti, architects and civil engineers is evaluated and rewarded by their peers.
Alex Torpiano, President of the Kamra tal-Periti, asserts that the Premju Emanuele Luigi Galizia – named after the respected Emanuele Luigi Galizia, a Maltese architect and civil engineer who designed many public buildings and churches – is neither promoted by private commercial interests nor by Government agencies, but based on recognition of design quality of the members’ work, by the members themselves. “All our jury members were local warranted professionals. In addition, we wished that the Premju EL Galizia would not be limited to ‘architectural’ work, since that is only a part of the breadth of our profession. In particular, it is intended to celebrate civil engineering excellence, which is an important part of the work of many periti, but also interior design and urban regeneration projects.”
There’s no tip-toeing around the fact that Malta’s controversial construction boom has given rise to a spate of mediocre, often poorly-designed buildings, which often overshadow quality work that deserves to be lauded. Prof. Torpiano admits that, in the current construction frenzy, it is difficult for the more insightful and talented professionals to produce quality work, not least because good quality work requires more time and greater attention to detail – “which current clients, in a hurry, often do not have time for. The more talented professionals can therefore lose commissions, unless they cut corners and rush their work. The awards programme was therefore also conceived as a form of moral support, and encouragement, to those periti who strive harder, and who deserve to have their work promoted.”
Civil Engineering Excellence Award - Farsons Corporate Office – TBA Periti
TBA Periti was the recipient of the Civil Engineering Excellence Award for their work on the Farsons corporate office – the design process of which took around 12 months, followed by 18 to 22 months for procurement and assembly, including construction and finishing of the additional floors – an honour which they are very proud of.
TBA Periti’s work concentrated on resolving the structural issues by using steel, but also, with the resulting aesthetic, create a new main entrance leading to a top-lit atrium which would contain a grand staircase – in the tradition of the Boardroom and staircase in the original 1950 brewery, which is currently being restored and converted.
The firm explains that the structural requirements of the project dictated the use of steelwork for the main structural elements, and the use of cladding on the exterior envelope, which created contrasting continuity with the existing masonry exterior. “For us, it was then obvious that the interior of the building had to reflect these choices, and together with interior designer Robert Farrugia of Dstudio, we worked on the detailing of the structural elements and the enclosure, so that these materials exploited the industrial aesthetic.”
The striking staircase is singled out as a major highlight of this project. The firm explains that the idea for the oval shaped staircase, repeated on two floors, evolved from the original idea for a continuous loop, which was based on the desire to consider the staircase as a spiral flow up the atrium. “The structure clearly needed to be based on steel, so that it was not too heavy. The beauty of the staircase had to lie in the lightness of the supporting structure, but a normal helical solution created problems at the interface with the existing roof slab.”
“We believe that the project brief and the detailed functional requirements created a situation that required clever engineering, whilst fulfilling the aesthetic standards that we set ourselves, not least to respect the tradition of brand quality,” they assert. “We believe that this project encapsulates the design philosophy of our practice: competent constructional and structural engineering, with careful detailing, to create, paraphrasing Alberti, the ‘greatest of beauty’.”
Quality Architecture Award and the President’s Award for Best Overall Project - San Pawl tat-Targa Villa – CVC Architecture Studio
This stunning villa in San Pawl tat-Targa replaced an old villa on the same site which had large rooms, but plenty of space was lost as circulation areas, as well as a pool at the lowest and deepest end of the garden which got little sunshine, being rather enclosed by the surrounding building. CVC Architecture Studio says that the brief was to create a family home with further space for guest accommodation as well as a swimming pool. A direct connection from the main living spaces and kitchen to the outdoors was a prerequisite, and a more secluded bedroom zone was also a requirement.
“Our design first and foremost is a result of a thorough analysis of the actual site and the quasi-rural context within which it sits, directly opposite land which can be developed as two storey villas. Large walls built in re-used stone blocks were designed to screen the house from the public’s view as well as from the direct south sun,” the firm’s partners explain. “The house was essentially split into two wings and entered at the corner, therefore achieving a clear distinction between these different zones. The natural slope of the site was fully exploited to create a raised large pool deck area directly linked to the living spaces, therefore achieving long distance country views from this area.”
The firm explains that breaking away from a more typical villa façade – with windows overlooking a front garden and instead creating large, stone screen walls – was a bold move, and an exceptional one at that. “The house has an ‘introverted’ character to it, and leaves the outsider wondering what lies within. The powerful identity of the different planes creates a strong narrative on approaching the house from the road, thus creating a striking and bold building that sits comfortably within its context.”
This same striking feature was also one of the greatest challenges of this project; that of realising the large screen walls using old stone. “We managed to engage a contractor who patiently sifted through many blocks, selecting those that had a nice patina but were not badly chipped or damaged,” they assert. “Convincing ourselves that our idea would ultimately look good was also a challenge, but we were definitely rewarded on completion.”
The project took 18 months to reach completion, the end result being a marvellous villa that earned CVC Architecture Studio the Quality Architecture Award and the President’s Award for Best Overall Project. The firm’s partners assert that, as architects, they should create comfortable and beautiful spaces for their clients to live and work in. “It is always a challenge to strike the right balance between the client’s wants, design aesthetics and functionality, whilst always considering efficiency and sustainability, not to mention cost! With this project, we feel that we managed to touch on all these points and harmoniously brought them together successfully.”
Interior Spaces Award and Emerging Practice Award - eCABS booking office – Valentino Architects
The sleek and unpredictably intriguing eCABS booking office needed to achieve a specific goal in line with the client’s needs: that of creating a space which appealed to the end user, which was durable due to intense use and foot traffic, and which was suitable for its function – that is, creating a space which would generate an experience out of a task which is otherwise mundane (i.e. waiting). It also needed to allow people to wait as close as possible to the street, where the taxi would pick them up from.
“The client also wanted to create a space which would instil a sense of pride into the eCABS staff and drivers, in line with eCABS’ thinking of continuing to change the stigma which previously existed within the local taxi industry,” the firm explains. Valentino Architects’ design centred on three crucial aspects in order to fulfil the brief: durability, appeal and function.
Durability was achieved through the overarching choice of material; large slabs of precast terrazzo with few joints, which is easy to clean, using curved joints between floors and walls that are also easy to wipe – a system, they explain, which was used in the past in local British barracks. “We also positioned heavy-duty gutters in the floors to make cleaning easy and fast, bearing in mind that the booking office is open 24/7. This concept was carried into the bathroom, including the choice of fittings, namely the stainless-steel WC and wash hand basin.”
The monolithic carved interior was achieved using pre-cast terrazzo blocks which were then carved into the slabs and the curved components using water-jet technology. “In addition, and to contrast against the concrete-looking interior, wood was used for seating, and mirrored surfaces were used beneath the projecting canopy to heighten the feeling of space at the entrance.”
Despite the small scale of the project, the architects say that it was a very personal one to the client, who started the business from that same office with only three cars, and today has grown to a fleet of around 160 cars. “Being entrusted to renovate this very personal space carried a certain amount of responsibility – the main reward is primarily the client’s satisfaction on a personal level and recognition that our intervention added value on an operational level.”
Valentino Architects was awarded the Interior Spaces Award and Emerging Practice Award for their work on the eCABS booking office, the design process for which started in September 2015, followed by works on site which started in January and were completed in March 2016. “We feel that the project was successful in the way that it satisfied the main three crucial points within the client’s brief,” they say, “and added the element of experience for the end user, i.e., transforming the mundane task of waiting into a more exciting experience.”
Urban Regeneration Award - Phoenicia Hotel regeneration – Architecture Project (AP)
The regeneration of the 1930s Phoenicia Hotel took place within the context of the rehabilitation project for the area spanning between City Gate, the former bus terminus and the Floriana former parade ground. Konrad Buhagiar, AP’s Executive Director responsible for the Phoenicia regeneration, says works included the restoration of the facades, the renewal of the back-of-house, the provision of new terraces on the roof of a new wing housing the spa, and the requalification of the surrounding gardens and pool area. “AP’s design was aimed at creating a contemporary experience that provided continuity with the prestige and glamour of the hotel’s past, and that payed tribute to both the art deco structure and the 16th century fortifications.”
“An infinity edge blurs the boundary between the pool and the sea beyond, and shallow steps running along the whole length of the pool create the effect of a beach at the foot of the bastions. The springboard for the regeneration of the hotel therefore was the Art Deco overtones of the authentic architectural style,” Mr Buhagiar asserts. “This was reinterpreted to provide continuity while adding to the rich historical stratification of the original structure. Copper, that provides the highlights on the façade, was married to hardstone. Together with the corroded softstone of the 16th century bastions, the water of the new pool and vegetation of the landscaped gardens, they create a harmonious composition of essences and materials that determines the new magic of the place.”
Mr Buhagiar highlights the design of the new infinity pool as an exceptional piece of the puzzle in this project, in that it connects the sheer scale of the bastions with the view of Marsamxetto Harbour beyond, “to provide a pool experience in a historic setting that is unrivalled. The discreet additions of the façade are also of considerable outstanding value – they eliminate the impression of two sets of additions that had, over time, fragmented the facades and contributed to their loss of proportion and elegance. For the first time in its lifetime since its construction, the hotel can be read as an architectural whole with integrity.”
While works on certain parts of the hotel are not yet completed, Mr Buhagiar admits that the biggest challenge was working on such a delicate historic site. “This was a task of great entail, not only because of the responsibility of working with the existing structures in such a way as to enhance their qualities, while keeping them abreast of the new demands of a contemporary lifestyle, but also because of the onerous bureaucratic procedures, and, consequently, delays that this entails.”
Architecture Project was awarded the Urban Regeneration Award for its work on the Phoenicia Hotel, helping to restore and cement its iconic status within a rapidly developing city. “The work on the facades has provided a stunning, scenographic backdrop to the newly created plaza fronting the new entrance to Valletta, giving the latter the aura of the grandiose developments that accompanied the dawn of luxury tourism in the world,” he says. “It is reminiscent of the grand place hotels that continued to be built from the fin-de-siecle all the way up to the immediate post-war period, when this niche phenomenon was replaced by mass tourism. The restoration of the old-world glamour in this area of town has brought to life an urban jewel that has been all but forgotten in recent years.”
The full version of this article appeared in The Commercial Courier