Malta should slim its planning policy books and focus on the quality of urban design so that people can relate to the spaces they live in, according to architect Antoine Zammit, who has just finished an “immaculate” doctorate in the UK.

“It is time we emphasised quality in our built environment. There is too much at stake and we cannot afford to repeat mistakes,” he told Times of Malta.

Dr Zammit lectures in spatial planning and urban design at the University of Malta.

We need to realise that quality is not just about adhering to policies

He sat on the Chamber of Architects board and the Planning Appeals Board in the past.

In 2002, he graduated from the University of Malta as an architect and civil engineer, specialised in urban design at the University College London and read for a PhD at University College London, which was partly funded by an MGSS scholarship.

It took Dr Zammit three years to complete the doctorate, themed Urban design quality through development control: the case of Malta. He was awarded the PhD with no corrections.

John Punter, from Cardiff University, described it as “an immaculate piece of work fully serving the award of PhD”.

He added: “The thesis is almost flawless in terms of expression of ideas, research methods and outcomes.”

Another examiner, Taner Oc, editor of the Journal of Urban Design, said it was “a praiseworthy study” and “an excellent thesis”.

Taking Malta as a case study, his research questions the role of development control in delivering urban design quality.

It was inspired by the realisation that, despite continuous development, Malta was not producing quality urban space.

“You’d look around and see a five-storey block, right next to a two-storey building, killing the streetscape, or large buildings putting others in shade, despite following planning requirements.

“Policies have become an application of numbers but we need to realise that quality is not just about adhering to policies.”

Dr Zammit noted that Malta needed to make the most of the ongoing planning authority reform and revise the planning system while questioning the role of urban design.

Quality, not numbers, needed to be given more importance.

“We need to rewrite the Planning Act. Let’s exploit the opportunity to rethink planning. Let’s slim our policy book and focus on the quality aspect of policy.

“Our policies are focused on numbers and part of the solution is to have fewer, but more effective policies.”

Asked about urban design quality, Dr Zammit noted that the local idea of design is all about aesthetics while urban design shifts the attention from the building to the context and the street, or the public space.

Urban design included the rhythm of apertures, the width of the facades, the relationship of the facade to the street and the penetration of sunlight, he noted.

“The aim of good design is to create places from spaces.

“A space becomes a place when it has a meaning and designers should create places so people can relate to spaces.”

Antoine Zammit. Photo: Jason Borg

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

Support Us