Għallis Exhibition Proposes an Alternative to Malta’s “Unstoppable Trajectory of Hyper-Development”

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Valentino Architects and curator Ann Dingli have unveiled a proposal to repurpose a historic fortification at the Venice Architecture Biennale, highlighting alternative methods of conservation in the face of Malta’s rapid development. The exhibition, curated by Dingli, was part of the Time Space Existence showcase and featured a plan to retrofit the 17th-century Għallis watchtower on Malta’s north-eastern shore.

Dingli explained that while the watchtower may not be remarkable on its own, it is part of a network of micro-fortifications that tell the islands’ military story. The aim of the exhibition was to re-establish its significance by introducing new functionality. The team proposed transforming the tower into a multi-use structure that can be adapted to various purposes.

Valentino Architects said that their design would reverse the exclusive nature of the fortress and make it an accessible and inclusive space. The proposal includes three different permutations to allow for private use and public access. The team hopes to draw attention to the commercialisation of historic buildings in Malta and demonstrate the potential of converting them into functional spaces rather than restoring them as empty monuments.

Dingli commented on the current focus on preserving the building fabric of heritage architecture in Malta, explaining that it often leads to restricted and limited use. She said the proposal aimed to move away from heritage as a product and towards heritage as useful space. The team also wants to address the rapid development in Malta, which they believe is happening at the expense of existing buildings. Dingli stated that the islands are experiencing intense development but lacking in retrofit and newbuild development to accommodate it.

Valentino Architects emphasized the need to prioritize reuse over rebuilding and extend the argument for conservation to all types of buildings, not just heritage ones. They advocated for dismantling rather than demolishing when there is no alternative but to remove a building. The team highlighted the importance of preserving and using materials like Malta’s local yellow limestone, which is a finite resource that contributes to the architectural identity of the island.

The Time Space Existence showcase presented work by architects, designers, and artists from 52 different countries. Alongside the Għallis exhibition, the show featured a tea house made from food waste and a concrete emergency housing prototype developed by the Norman Foster Foundation and Holcim.

The Venice Architecture Biennale’s Time Space Existence exhibition will run from 20 May to 26 November 2023 at various locations in Venice, Italy.

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