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Giving Archicultural Value to Valletta - Keynote Speech to the Chamber of Architects: October 2004

Valletta is the designer city of the 16th Century, built with Vision, coming straight from a drawing board. The lack of a combined vision and philosophy, and perhaps the lack of contracting ideas for a NEW city , the Citta’ Nuova ordered, designed and built by La Vallette, Laparelli and Girolamo Cassar, would have made Valletta a different story and a different city today.

The Grand Harbour and Valletta developed from a port and City of war and conflict, the symbol of the European-Christian and the Ottoman-Muslim divide of the mid-16th Century, into a principle commercial and cultural City and port of the 17 and 18th Century, bridging cultural diversities through architecture, literature, music, and trade.

This achievement is attributable only to the VISION of the founding fathers of the City, who wanted it to be, possibly, an eternal Citta’ Nuova, envisaged, not quite as a Caput Mundi, respecting the Pope and Rome, but as the Caput Mediterranea.  

I am also certain that a lack of the serious vision of the founders our City, would not have attracted the local and foreign planners, architects and artists who flooded the city and the island, if they did not feel part of the Philosophy of Space and the vision for the City, possibly being repulsive to Mattia Perez d’Aleccio, Paladini, Mattia Preti, Caravaggio Cassar, Carapecchia, Andrea Belli, Gafa and others .

More than simple architecture, early or otherwise baroque for the City, we can speak of a Valletta archicultural achievement. Balance, proportion, style, contemporaneous, and meaning was given to Valletta .

“It is in this regard that it becomes possible to discern the power and the origin of the city, this being on the one hand the work of men, and on the other part of context by nature.” It is only with this philosophy of space that regeneration of Valletta and of its sites, including the Opera House site and other areas in Valletta should be interpreted.

Perhaps, with this in mind, even the Barry structure would not have been acceptable.

Massimiliano Finazzer Flory, of the Ottagono and Urban Centre, writing on the Milan Galleria, states that “the re-evaluation of the city, even today, passes through the re-evaluation of tradition and culture. Identity constitutes the base and the height for the construction of any urban location that aims to be more than anonymous.”

Would we be losing on this definition when we see the identity of St. Elmo, dwarfed, both physically and psychologically by the developments in the immediate vicinity across the harbour?

Valletta , as a whole, fits perfectly in the definition of Massimiliano Finazzer Flory. The identity of the city and its architecture are a cultural weave forming and shaping a community, translated in public space. Iit is in this perspective than Fort St. Elmo can offer itself as a prominent seat for parliament.

It is with this new, or better still, revived vision that the regeneration of our ports has been seen throughout our history. This is the way forward to shape our new renaissance for Valletta and its ports.

For at least two centuries, the concept of urban landscape has been transformed. Ever since Charles Baudelaire, French poet and critic of the 19th Century, describing Paris , observed how the physical form of the city actually changed faster than the heart of a mortal.

If we want to be more critical and cynical than Baudelaire, we can say that in the case of the Royal Opera Hose in Valletta , the physical form of the site has remained unchanged, lying in repose, longer than the life-time of a mortal.

In the wake of the Valletta Harbour District Area Urban regeneration, with more than Lm 170,000,000 being invested by the private sector in and around the City, Valletta needs to revive its own identity.

Major cities willing to play a central role plan ahead. London , Liverpool , Barcelona , are some of the key players. The Urban Task Force for Regeneration, within the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, headed by Lord Rogers, is a typical example of how, the harbour areas of Valletta should be addressed, looking into not only design and architecture, but also social integration and citizen participation from the initial stages of the whole regeneration process.

Before seeing the colour, style, materials to be used, design and height for the building of the Opera House Site, we must all see what we want to achieve of this same site and possible other sites like that of st. Elmo.

All decisions on who, how, when and where all this will happen must be taken with utmost sensitivity and vision.

In 1993, when Norman Foster, one of seventeen foreign architects was invited to compete in the renovation of the “new” the Parliament Building of the Reichstag in Berlin, the philosophy of the building's transformation was rooted in four issues: the Bundestag's significance as a democratic forum, a commitment to public accessibility, a sensitivity to history, and a rigorous environmental agenda.

As found, the Reichstag was mutilated by war and insensitive rebuilding; All the scars to the building are preserved and historical layers articulated; the Reichstag has become a 'living museum' of German history.

The light glowing through the cupola becomes a beacon, signalling the strength and vigour of the German democratic process. The symbolism and philosophy of the building is immense and endorses the principles of archiculture.

The Reichstag archiculture is for the democracy just what our St. John’s Cathedral  archiculture is for Christian Faith.

My personal choice of the Royal Opera House Site as a new Seat for Parliament is only a secondary one, and only on condition that that the same intense philosophy, in context to our identity, is given to the Building.

Transporting the Parliament Bunker Soldier Chambers from the Palace on Republic Street, to the Opera House Site, with no vision and excitement may be similar to staging a Greek Tragedy in a street performance.

Parliament must lead by example in the building it chooses for itself, in respect of people sovereignty and in balance with the environment; sensitive to the area, becoming new archicultural symbol of our renewed identity. 

I firmly believe that for the expected expense of 12 million Malta liri, my first choice of site would go to St. Elmo, listed by UNESCO as an endangered monument, with the lower part seating Parliament and the upper part of the site integrating cultural, social and leisure amenities.

St Elmo shaped the fate of Valletta . Without it and St. Angelo, our history and our identity would be different to who and what we are today as a People and a Nation.

Setting up itself in St. Elmo, the Maltese Parliament would be sending three clear messages:
(i) its obligation to history and heritage through restoration, de-listing it from the UNESCO endangered monument list;
(ii) its firm vision to the people by opening a war machine to the public realm and democracy, reflecting a contemporary civil society; (in line with the vision and philosophy of St. James Cavalier) and
(iii) its serious commitment to serve as the catalyst to social and economic growth in the lower parts of the City, integrating this area in the regeneration process of Valletta. 

The regeneration of Valletta will not be complete without a clear vision for fort St. Elmo, reviving an integral part of our inherent archiculture.

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