Urban Design, Sustainable Rehabilitation, Responsible Architecture

Valuing the past / Integrating the contemporary

Sliema, Malta
2017 - 2021

This project involved the redevelopment of three townhouses of varying historical significance and wedged between a number of commitments, some of which were higher, within a street that has undergone varying typologies of development. It involved understanding how an infill development could provide a contemporary response that remained respectful of the architectural fabric it was replacing. While being primarily residential in nature, the development also comprises a guesthouse, located within the upper end of the development, a restaurant (that is also ancillary to the guesthouse) and a language school at ground floor level. A large, 150sqm communal internalcourtyard and underground car park, located on four levels beneath the entire project footprint, complement this development.

Several important streetscape principles were established, addressed individually and then layered up together, forming the backbone to the design. Rather than opting for a solution that comprised vertically stacked horizontal balconies and large, horizontally oriented openings onto the street, similar to a number of neighbouring redevelopments, the starting point was about understanding the nature of the important contextual cues that could still be found within the street. A decision was taken, confirmed subsequently by the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, to retain the façade of the oldest house within this stretch, having established that the rest of the built fabric comprised post-war reconstructions that had been altered significantly over the years. The facade was retained in situ throughout the excavation works and subsequent construction of the upper levels – a major challenge in this project. Interesting masonry elements and the closed timber balcony in the middle portion were also retained, carefully dismantled and incorporated within the new design.

The exercise then involved finding important baseline parameters, starting from façade proportion, followed by block articulation and the introduction of a first setback just beyond the 2-storey retention, aperture alignment, aperture proportion, solid:void ratio, colour and materiality and the ground floor plinth/active frontage interface. Together, these urban design principles together create a contextual yet distinct landmark within the street. Redeveloping several properties in a comprehensive manner facilitated the possibility of establishing and applying these parameters, which might have been harder to achieve if each property had been individually redeveloped. The development’s legibility is reinforced with the combination of both traditional and contemporary elements, reinforcing the block articulation and providing a richness to the entire project. The development makes extensive use of masonry stonework, particularly on the northern façade, using it to carve out traditional masonry elements and form balcony corbels on the lower floors, as well as stone mouldings and fascias on the upper levels.

An important objective involved challenging the conventional understanding of the apartment plan, rethinking the arrangement of necessarily having an open plan living/dining/kitchen space fronting the street and having large openings and projecting balconies and bedrooms at the back. This enabled the introduction of more compatible openings – for instance, having two vertically oriented apertures within the street-facing bedrooms rather than one large horizontally oriented aperture, which still offer an equivalent area in terms of natural light penetration. Conversely, larger rear apertures work with the living/dining/kitchen open plan, setback from the façade and shaded thanks to deep overhangs provided by overlying terraces, allowing them to remain sizeable without resulting in unnecessary heat gains.

This project was awarded a special commendation at the Planning Authority’s 2021 MASP Awards in the category Residential Architecture.