The landmark Palazzina Vincenti in St Julian’s should be protected from demolition due to its significant historical and architectural value, the superintendence of cultural heritage has said.

Once the residence of acclaimed architect Gustavo Romeo Vincenti, the iconic villa faces being bulldozed to make way for a 14-storey hotel, theatre and restaurant complex.

"Strongly recommending" the rejection of its proposed demolition, the superintendence said the 1940s building was “one of the best modernist examples in Malta”.

The assessment could put paid to PA 7761/21, which is proposing the complex, consisting of three basement levels of parking spaces, a 136-room hotel, restaurants, a theatre, pools and ‘gabbanas’ at the top.

On reviewing the application, the SCH advisory committee maintained Palazzina Vincenti and its two adjacent properties are of “cultural heritage value that merits scheduling”.

They should be etained due to their “historical, architectural, social, research, representative, contextual and rarity levels”.

St Julian’s Mayor Albert Buttigieg had strongly objected to the permit application, saying a decision on its scheduling had to be taken before the proposal to demolish it was considered.

The iconic villa along the St Julian's promenade is a prime example of modernist architecture.The iconic villa along the St Julian's promenade is a prime example of modernist architecture.

In its assessment, the SCH noted that the proposed volumes and massing of the pending application for the Triq il-Kbira and Triq Gorg Borg Olivier project, designed by Robert Musumeci for developer Carlo Stivala, were also objectionable because of their “adverse visual impact on the site’s immediate urban context”.

Palazzina Vincenti, situated along the St Julian’s promenade, is in an area that bears onto its Urban Conservation Area and is in the vicinity of several scheduled properties, it highlighted.

On either side of it are another two houses that are “designed in a muted modernist aesthetic, possibly derived from Vincenti’s affiliation with regional modernist architecture”, the superintendence said.

Prominent architect

It described the property proposed for demolition is a “well-proportioned” modernist residence, designed and lived in by of one of the most prominent architects of the first half of the 20th century.

Vincenti was particularly renowned for his architectural style, which was heavily influenced by geometric shapes and forms, the SCH said in its case to preserve the building.

“Palazzina Vincenti itself was a pioneering example of modernist architecture that made use of reinforced concrete in a domestic setting,” it said, explaining that it was “representative of a period of experimentation with materials, geometry and styles, as well as an international solution for residences, which was vastly explored in the decades that followed”.

Acclaimed architect Gustavo Romeo Vincenti, who lived in the house from 1948 until his death.Acclaimed architect Gustavo Romeo Vincenti, who lived in the house from 1948 until his death.

The superintendence said it had been studying the works of Vincenti with the intention to schedule the best example for some months prior to the submission of the planning application.

'Preservation only sane way forward'

Both the Superintendence and the Planning Authority had received a request for its protection by architect Edward Said in February 2019.

The heritage conservationist feared it was in great danger of being demolished because it was within the development zone and had been “earnestly” seeking feedback on his request along the years.

Said had recommended Grade 1 protection, including all façade apertures and finishes, while interior elements of the partly dilapidated building were worthy of preservation due to its grand reinforced concrete staircase and waffle structure ceilings.

A closer look at the modernist building, left in disrepair. Photo: Matthew MirabelliA closer look at the modernist building, left in disrepair. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The PA had been awaiting the SCH’s recommendation since April 2019, Said had been informed.

In reaction to the developments, he said “it is clear immediate scheduling and preservation is the only sane way forward”.

The permit application for Palazzina Vincenti had also come under fire from the History of Art and Fine Arts Students Association, which had expressed “shock” at the fact that “another piece of local identity was under threat”.

Objections to the planning application to demolish the building close on December 10 and the PA will then decide on its fate.

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

Support Us