An architecture firm is using the international Venice Biennale platform to highlight the “contemporary architectural crisis” in Malta. 

3DM Architecture is participating in the sixth edition of the architectural exhibition, Time Space Existence, with Issa (Now) – a large interactive art installation that has been set up in Palazzo Bembo, a prominent Venice location.

The project raises the issue of “Malta’s non-existent architectural identity today”, according to its lead architect, Maurizio Ascione.

It emphasises the need to “reconnect with our roots and principles in the face of the contemporary architectural crisis,” he said. 

The abstract installation is composed of local materials, including weathered stone blocks, symbolising the past and gravel to reconnect with the natural environment, with carved stone to represent ‘now’.

Issa (Now) at the Venice Biennale. Photo: 3DM ArchitectureIssa (Now) at the Venice Biennale. Photo: 3DM Architecture

Ascione, who is heading a team of 12 from his firm was inspired by a quote from Chinese-American architect I.M Pei, who designed the glass pyramid at the Louvre in Paris.

Pei once said: “You only have to cast your eyes on buildings to feel the presence of the past, the spirit of a place; they are a reflection on society.”

Ascione says the intention is to question what these words say about Malta, where “we only speak about development…not architecture”. 

A mirror in the walk-through installation symbolises reflection, encouraging the viewer to think. 

The team’s proposed way forward was to “look into the past and re-explore our primitive materials, learn from the processes along our history and come up with our own identity that will last for generations to come,” Ascione said.

“By providing a fresh perspective and reminding us of the importance of preserving our cultural heritage, the exhibition offers insight into how to overcome the lack of identity and craftsmanship in today’s architecture.”

The installation uses natural materials.The installation uses natural materials.

Ascione said he is not just concerned about overdevelopment but is also worried about the lack of quality in spaces and architecture.  

“This is lost as we just build buildings,” he said, pointing fingers at his own profession, but saying architects alone cannot change a nation’s mentality.

While everyone is aware of the issue, well-intentioned architects may have got to a point where they feel “stuck” because this is a cultural, social and educational matter too, he said. 

Architects are overpowered by the public and authorities – a “stuck society” based only on traditional solutions, creating a sense of false nostalgia, he added. “We should create contemporary buildings that mirror the Maltese identity for the future” and reinterpret national heritage to create something new.

Applying basic principles of good architecture – including pure forms, good use of proportions, scale, articulation of negative and positive spaces, symmetry and asymmetrical rhythms, a play of light and shadows – formed architecture that was “here to stay”, Ascione said.

Taking the lack of identity in Maltese architecture to the world’s stage this weekend at the Biennale Architettura on its own initiative was a huge financial cost for 3DM Architecture. 

But Ascione said the plan was to start the discussion and continue it with workshops in Malta and he believes the project can “change people’s mentality on how they can intervene on their environment”. 

Issa was first showcased in Malta in the presence of Planning Minister Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi, and the exhibit is in Venice until November 26.

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