The project SORĠI by Anna Horváth currently on display at The Phoenicia Gardens addresses the issue of construction waste and the loss of local architectural heritage. Lara Zammit speaks to the artist about her works and their ramifications.

“When I decided to join a small team of architects, we had to deal with small-scale projects where there was a lot of concern with the issue of demolition and the question of well-being,” artist and architect Anna Horváth said.

“Working within this realm, I realised it was not my field, or rather I wanted to be part of those spaces where you have the capacity to put your morality in what you are designing, as opposed to everything being about the property price. This is where the whole idea for SORĠI came from.”

SORĠI, an outdoor furniture collection by Horváth, is made from construction waste to highlight the importance of Malta’s architectural heritage, resulting in six benches inspired by the shape, colours and materials of six local buildings that have been or are currently being threatened by construction.

“The project is not just about construction waste but also about highlighting the importance of architectural heritage at this moment in Malta. I feel it is more of a research project, of which the first outcome are these furniture pieces, but it is more about researching ways of creating a circular system,” she explained. 

“I don’t have to say what is happening at the quarries at the moment. We are running out of natural resources, there is loads of waste with no space for storage of construction waste, and I realised there are only a few construction companies and quarries which are recycling, but those are only a few on the island.”

Horváth went on to compare the current environmental necessity to use the materials that are available rather than constantly make new ones with how the Bauhaus school made use of materials to make buildings after World War II.

The bench Emma is based on a stretch of traditional stores on the Marsa seafront.The bench Emma is based on a stretch of traditional stores on the Marsa seafront.

“You have to use what you have and react in design and in art for the environment and for political action. I feel we have to find ways to reuse instead of producing new materials and new concrete and buying materials from abroad.

“It’s the same with furniture. There is no big local furniture company here; most furniture is imported from Italy and I feel we have a chance to create local furniture based on sustainable materials.”

Aiming to devise a system that uses construction waste to make new products in the spirit of sustainability and circular economy, the research arm of the project was mostly intended to create an effective process from sourcing to creation.

“I talked to the quarries that are taking back waste – the dumping quarries which at this moment are filling up. Then I talked to some construction companies which started calling me before they demolish a building, letting me know of any material which I can source from them,” Horváth noted.

“There are suppliers which have marble stone, or even architecture companies who commission big slabs for cladding or kitchen tops and they would have leftover pieces. And I contacted glass companies in Qormi which are doing stained glass for churches, for example. Terrazzo is made of chips of glass and marble, so it’s how I created the terrazzo itself. At this moment there are also random individuals calling me up with their waste.

The stool Dolores in the foreground, with a version of it in blue terrazzo on the far right. The bench Twinny, inspired by two 19th-century Spinola towers, is in the background.The stool Dolores in the foreground, with a version of it in blue terrazzo on the far right. The bench Twinny, inspired by two 19th-century Spinola towers, is in the background.

“We are getting cleaned aggregates since we still don’t have the machinery to clean and crush these ourselves. We were crushing the offcuts we received with a hammer for the first pieces. With my team, we take different material samples, we test different small-scale ones to see the colour and the texture, then we turn them into stools and finally the bigger benches.”

Horváth said that, throughout the process of casting the pieces, they realised that they were producing waste as well.

There is no system and that is why I am trying to create one

“There was a chunk of terrazzo in the end which we didn’t use for anything. So, I asked my sculptor to make some moulds with which we are making little pots and ash trays from the leftover material,” she said. 

The six benches composing SORĠI are intended for public spaces, but Horváth said that the aim is to start making these sorts of products for industries and homes through private orders.

“The narrative has to do with the buildings because we have all seen all the developments throughout the island and all the buildings getting lost – they are keeping the façade and there is no relation with the original building, and what there is left is not protected.”

The bench Rita, based on the Ta’ Rita Lapsi View building in Għar Lapsi.The bench Rita, based on the Ta’ Rita Lapsi View building in Għar Lapsi.

Each of the six benches reflects and connects to six local landmark buildings.

The first bench, Rita, will be placed in front of Ta’ Rita Lapsi View in Għar Lapsi, which was originally a small café catering for British servicemen in the 1930s. “If the building changes in the meantime or if it gets lost, at least people can sit on this bench and read the tag on the side, which will lead them to an eventual website where pictures and the plans will be uploaded.”

The bench Roxy was inspired by the Roxy Cinema in Birkirkara, built in 1931 – a rare example of Art Deco in Malta. “I was inspired by the top elements above the entrance and by how, with pollution, the bottom half is darker than the top. The bench is made of four interlocking elements and will be placed in front of the old railway station gardens.”

The bench Emma represents a stretch of traditional stores on the seafront in Marsa.

“The continuation of the waterfront, which is a really beautiful, homogenous landscape, is still visible in some parts, but certain newer developments broke up this beautiful continuation. The problem is that we don’t have a common way of looking at or creating streetscapes or townscapes,” Horváth remarked. 

The bench named Cini represents the recently demolished Sun City Palais in Marsascala.

“While this may not be a really important architectural building, it was a community space for the people of Marsascala and the south in general.

“So this is something else that I question about these new developments because when you develop apartments and such places, sure the GDP is growing, but what does that mean for locals and people who were using this space and don’t have it anymore?”

The bench composing Twinny was inspired by the two 19th-century Spinola towers recently mired in controversy due to development.

The bench Roxy, inspired by the Roxy Cinema in Birkirkara.The bench Roxy, inspired by the Roxy Cinema in Birkirkara.

“There is nothing good to say about this development unfortunately, but we should highlight the fact that we shouldn’t do this.”

Finally, Dolores is a stool inspired by a building in Żejtun recently extended with highly insensitive glass and aluminium structures.

“The new structures have no relation in materiality or proportion. I got inspired by the corner motif and by the balustrades of this building, which I abstracted and abstracted until I got the stool which we made at the end”. 

Horváth maintained that the project is a critical statement, but it is also a warning about what is happening across the island, both in terms of the destruction of local heritage and the lack of circularity of materials.

“I think there is no system and that is why I am trying to create one. Imagine you have a system or network on site where you can reuse the demolished material. What if we make reconstituted stone on site and use it to rebuild, so you get rid of the dumping and the new material? The problem is that it is more expensive to do so, which is why you need government intervention. Public art is one way to educate the people and raise awareness. This is a project which offers solutions.”

SORĠI is showing at The Phoenicia Gardens until August 29.

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