This column has been on hold for just over a month. During that time: the Gutenberg press building in Tarxien was eyed for conversion into a shopping mall, its current owner filing a permit application to demolish the two-storey printing press – built in 1996 to a decent limestone design and, today, still visible as an everyday landmark of rare temperate scale along the drive from Marsa southwards following the length of Tal-Barrani road.

The application sought replacement with three storeys above ground and four floors below of retail provision, promoting unity with regional Scotts and LIDL outposts sited within a kilometre’s distance.

Next, a study shedding light on the dominance of landlord ownership was released publicly, declaring two-fifths of Malta’s rental properties to be owned by a tenth of the islands’ landlords and 16 out of 400 interviewed landlords to own more than 10 properties each – shedding light on the monopolised landscape of national real estate. A protest on the adjacent issue of private accretion onto public realm, or the ‘Siege of Public Land’, fittingly followed, with a press conference in Valletta held to launch the Il-Bankini Taċ-Ċittadini campaign.

Meanwhile, local NGOs in their dogged – if oft fruitless – vigilance, raised alarm on two separate environmentally menacing episodes. Firstly, a spat of seemingly ecologically hostile and officially unpermitted activity in Armier Bay of the concrete-poured-over-sand-and-natural-habitat variety; and, secondly, around the possible danger of ODZ policy changes being introduced to allow countryside and/or agricultural buildings to be converted into hotels.

Both claims were fully denied by authorities, becoming another two vague chips hacked off the nation’s collective sanity around the integrity of both its natural and built environment. Like many other refuted claims, they delivered a double dose of ambiguous threats to which we know no beginning, no end and have no understanding of the boundaries of accuracy.

Then, at the end of last month, on April 20 precisely, the tragic news of the death of Bari Balla – a father of six – came through our feeds. Balla’s vulnerability to another construction nightmare symbolises the darkest, most damning reminder of all the problems we have categorically failed to fix. Its deepest horror? Admission into the incorporeal cycle of anaesthesia that now characterises any news – good or bad – connected with Malta’s urban story.

During this column’s very brief hiatus, the act of mourning these development calamities individually has felt more and more like a fool’s endeavour. Critique presents as yet another component to the dense and blindingly compound problem of Malta’s grand act to bury itself in more of itself.

Our condition of ‘hypernormalisation’ – a term coined by anthropologist Alexei Yurchak to describe the condition of knowing that a system is failing but not being able to imagine or enact an alternative, the powered and the powerless all subsequently resigning to a charade of functioning society – is so entrenched that outlining the ongoing list of urban malaises feels like pouring water into an already overflowing glass.

The unmitigated consequence of gluttony has all but converted former scenes of hope into a tenuous mirage- Ann Dingli

But if in the space of just a few weeks an island of 316 km² can undergo a torrent of policy, ownership, heritage, ecological and mortal crises of this kind of consistency, then that list still needs making. Because nothing is new, none of these stories are surprising or atypical – but their true terror is their paralysingly additive effect, reinforcing the belief that nothing can ever, or will ever, change.

That, however, would be the biggest mistake of all: believing that the agency and resources necessary to convert bad into good have been depleted. They are there, they are ours, they just need taking.

Architecture and place-making is, in its purest format, the literal shaping of progress. Its aim is to give infrastructure to the diverse ambitions connected to societies and civilisations. If people want to be better educated, architecture makes schools and universities that will uphold the right type of learning required to do so.

If people want to know more about their own cultural psyche, museum and library buildings give space for them to look directly at it. If governments want to support democratic discourse and law-making, courts and chambers of authority are shaped for them to do so.

A while back, from the early 00s over a decade or so, Malta hit an architectural sweet spot. Sizeable swathes of heritage regeneration established a promise of legitimate cultural tourism (City Gate; Dock One; Ċittadella); smaller piecemeal projects by local practitioners showed signs of veritable innovation (M&S Valletta; 2 22; St James Cavalier Centre of Creativity, now Spazju Kreattiv); and the pedestrianisation of parts of the capital gave credence to a signal of people-first development. These, and other examples, became built beacons of identity and national aspiration.

Where are these kinds of projects now? Why are good architects being buried in home conversions and vanity expeditions? Real progress is achievable – it’s been realised time and time again in our past.

The unmitigated consequence of gluttony has all but converted former scenes of hope into a tenuous mirage. Our job is to wade our way out of it, keep calling out the wrongs and continue looking for the truth of what can be good.

Write to with the subject line: ‘Space Matters’ to suggest a subject this column should cover.

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