Design competitions to turn three government buildings into homes for vulnerable people have attracted a lot of interest from architects, which can only benefit the communities. Fiona Galea Debono has more...

Architectural firms have applied in droves for design competitions to rehabilitate three derelict government buildings for the use of NGOs and the vulnerable groups they represent.

The Architectural Design Competitions have attracted 66 registrations from large and small practices alike – double the number of submissions last year and a number described as “most encouraging”.

The contracts will be for the rehabilitation of a Valletta palazzo into a YMCA homeless shelter for the elderly and disabled, the remodelling of a modernist San Ġwann townhouse into MGRM-supported accommodation for vulnerable LGBTIQ individuals and families, and the renovation of a Birkirkara apartment to provide semi-independent accommodation for youths leaving Fondazzjoni Sebħ’s domestic violence shelter.

An alternative to tenders 

The design competition is an initiative of the Social Accommodation Ministry and Housing Authority and is organised by the Kamra tal-Periti (KTP).

The concept started off on a smaller scale in 2019 and is a relatively new approach to public procurement.

The strong participation of members of the profession has confirmed a clear appetite for these competitions, says André Pizzuto, president of the KTP, which is facilitating their take-up within the public sector by offering logistical and technical assistance.

“Unfortunately, the public sector has almost invariably procured architectural services through tenders whose main selection criterion was the cheapest price, discouraging firms that prefer competing on the basis of the quality of their work,” Pizzuto said.

“As a result, its procurement method has been unable to consistently attract the services of highly-skilled architects and civil engineers, adversely affecting the quality of our built environment and short-changing the taxpayer.”

Public projects should lead by example, according to the Chamber of Architects and Civil Engineers, which stressed that public funds should be used to maximise the benefits to communities.

The procurement method has been unable to consistently attract the services of highly-skilled architects and civil engineers

“When it comes to public projects, the main benefit to a community is ensuring the highest quality outcomes within the built environment. It is our firm belief that architectural design competitions are the best procurement tool to achieve this objective,” Pizzuto noted.

First of many design competitions?

Many European countries mandate that public projects can only be procured through design competitions, with France being the first country to make this a legal requirement. While this has been the norm for years elsewhere, it is not yet the case in Malta.

The KTP is hoping that through the successful implementation of the initiative, other public entities will be encouraged to engage with it for the organisation of their development programmes.

Following the first architectural design competitions – part of the Specialised Housing Programme within the Sustainable Communities initiative – the ministry increased the budget for the 2020 edition substantially, as well as the number of projects offered to community organisations.

The Sustainable Communities, Housing for Tomorrow policy was specifically developed to offer solutions based on the needs of vulnerable groups, said Sustainable Communities Board chairperson Rachael Scicluna.

In fact, the winning projects include the LGBTIQ community, older people and the disabled as well as young female victims of domestic violence.

The design of the actual homes will play a crucial role in creating a positive atmosphere and a successful outcome for residents, Scicluna said.

The large take-up by periti demonstrates that the architecture and design professions are keen to contribute and rethink the traditional housing model to suit the modern needs of vulnerable groups brought about by social transformations and economic development, she added.

Independent living is at the forefront of the three projects.

Competing architects will have to bear in mind the objective of the Malta Gay Rights Movement’s Dar il-Qawsalla to establish a programme of supported accommodation.

The policy outlines clear criteria for all entries but at the core of the concept is good design, which, ultimately, is about good quality of life and about connecting citizens to the built environment.

Design competitions are being promoted by architectural associations worldwide, following a 2019 international conference during which the Architects’ Council of Europe and the International Union of Architects signed a joint declaration calling for governments to recommend them as preferred procedures in their procurement legislation.

Following a briefing session by the NGOs and an open site visit, registrations closed at the end of 2020, with entries expected by February 15 and the winners announced in March.

The jury is composed of a multi-disciplinary team. The winner, first and second runners-up are also awarded prize money in proportion to the budget allocated for each project, amounting to a maximum €3,500.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us