This competition comprised three potential projects for the Planning Authority – a rethought external path to the building; a new lobby and reception area; and the redesign of the PA’s Enforcement Section, and newer extension at setback floor level.
The path provides an opportunity to interact with numerous visitors to the Planning Authority; various individuals who all have some effect or other on Malta’s urban environment. It is felt that this interaction should be one with nature – as Malta becomes more urban, our connection and relationship with nature becomes ever more important. For this reason, nature deserves to be a prime protagonist of this space. The access for all path is submerged slightly into the ground, bringing the user closer to the natural landscaping being proposed along the edge of the path, which intensifies the current landscaping that is in place. The path becomes a learning opportunity for visitors to interact with local and endemic flora; the scent, sights and tactile experience of the vegetation is the main attraction as the user walks towards the main foyer. The small botanical display showcases the many wonderful Maltese flora, from low lying shrubs and succulents found in Garigue, to local grasses and endemic orchids found in Maquis. The use of local vegetation has the added benefit that less water is required and less overall maintenance. This should also be a lesson in local landscaping design, which unfortunately often tends to copy foreign models without understanding the local relevance in depth. Shading and shelter throughout the path is provided through the densification of the foliage canopy, and through the planting of local mature trees. This envelopes the user into a natural, green alcove. Additional sheltering is provided through cantilevered louvred canopies, wrapping around as wooden benches located along the path, and allowing one to pause within the botanical display. The opening up and the breaking down of the sheltering structure into individual smaller components implies that views to the main entrance and foyer will not be obstructed in any way. At night the structures light up with clean rhythmic lines, further adding a futuristic perspective to the Authority’s outlook.
In turn, the design brief of the new lobby sought a more holistic design while also retaining its functionality of a reception and waiting area and ensuring ease of maintenance. The scale of the existing open volume is exploited, wherein a second volume has been placed as a suspended glazed box. This provides a central feature to the space, and guides visitors to the various desks located beneath it, most of which are consolidated around a central reception/meeting area. Its location has been studied so as not to obstruct views to the exposed masonry façades and, significantly, the internal masonry arcade. The use of the floating box is ancillary to the library at first floor level, providing a reference/reading area that has a public nature to it, possibly populated with general planning literature, and that provides visitors with a vantage view of the entire foyer. The floating box allows the lighting and ventilation solutions to be brought down from their current (impractical) high location, to approximately 4m above Finish Floor level. At this height the services may be more easily maintained, and the thermal efficiency of the ventilation system is significantly improved, since ventilation is provided where it is required. The main facade of the floating box, facing the foyer’s entrance, is proposed as a Transparent LED Glass Panel, which allows for various images to be portrayed on the face of the box. This serves as a banner for any form of communication that the Planning Authority wishes to convey and gives the space a futuristic outlook, while creating a dynamic facade that remains as a reference point to the entire volume. When inactive, the LED Glass panel becomes fully transparent allowing views to and from this perched library space. The space itself is treated as an informal waiting area wherein, through the use of digital technologies, namely the Virtual Queue Management System, there will be no need to physically queue in a line. This will allow visitors to roam the central open space and sit wherever they please in a more informal setting. Vegetation and landscaping is brought indoors in continuation with the outside of the building, thus relating with the first project. These green pockets are intended to bring life to the foyer and transform it into a more interactive and stimulating environment. Meeting areas are retained on the left hand side of the foyer space, but have been transformed into better sized glass boxes within the voluminous space, again so as not to obstruct views of the exposed facade. Privacy for the meeting rooms shall be provided through the use of SmartGlass (switchable glass) – when privacy to the meeting room is required, the smart glass may become fully opaque at the touch of a button, through the use of a small electrical voltage. When the room is not being occupied, however, it will appear as a transparent glazed box.
In terms of the third project, while retaining the existing masonry arcade, a new steel frame structure is proposed with high-performance glass. The new structure inside the façade is treated as a second skin, providing better thermal efficiency. This is kept separate from the original facade, creating a clear distinction between the new and the old, while on the Southern Elevation an internal gypsum-lined insulated skin increases the thermal efficiency of the internal spaces by retaining more heat in winter and limiting the entry of heat in summer. In this manner, the building skin itself provides for better energy efficiency and thus contributes towards achieving a nearly-Zero Energy building, besides the provision of renewable sources of energy to generate energy via photovoltaic panels at roof level. The rhythmic grid of the arcade has defined the internal facade and the structural components of the new building, accented with contemporary materials – with a full height mesh overlaid onto curtain glazing. The setback floor has been dealt with as a separate element with a clean volumetric treatment that provides a clear distinction between the existing structure and the setback level, adding a light complementing volume that does not attempt to compete with the rest of the building and simultaneously adds a contemporary language to the building. The intricacy of the design is provided through a dart pattern mesh that clads the clean volume and that relates to the existing arcade’s grid through its sizing and rhythm.