Friday, April 9, 2010

In search of Maltese Architecture - A Call To Action!

Myriad underground spaces scattered all over the Maltese islands speak of a heritage in which space is not defined by enclosing it, but by painstakingly carving it out of rock. Old farmhouses reveal a multitude of inventive methods for crafting limestone to suit numerous needs. Balconies and layered front doors tell of our Arabic legacy and a complex relationship between public and private. Valletta educates on the art of city planning and Mdina on the expertly composed meander.
With such a rich and varied architectural heritage from which to learn and be inspired, and such a unique culture to express and to build spaces for, Maltese architecture could aspire to be more. Yet so little of our contemporary architecture seems comparable to that built throughout our eventful history. 
Discussions on architecture in Malta tellingly tend to follow two patterns; reminiscences on the island’s pre-building boom beauty, on our wonderful architectural heritage and the importance of conservation, or cynical rants on the contemporary, mixed with a resigned acceptance of it as an inevitable consequence of progression and a reflection of the times.

And so a conspicuous, notional divide exists between our pre-colonial and postcolonial architecture. Perhaps this is a natural symptom of a long history of colonisers applying their vision of Malta, one
on top of the other, like a layered drawing, upon our little island.

But what can we do with the metaphoric top layer? Conserve and give value to our heritage – ideally this is taken for granted. But simultaneously be inventive and ambitious, create opportunities, outside of the private sector, to develop an architectural language that has grown from this unique heritage, and is our own, and not more of the nondescript construction that exists all over the Mediterranean.

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