A heritage NGO has called for a design review committee amid complaints about the way Sliema’s former naval clinic will be replaced with a proposed eight-storey building which “fails to do justice to the old façade”.

Such a committee could lead the way because the planning authority’s aim was to commercially exploit sites by squeezing in as many floors as possible in the space that is allowed, Din L-Art Ħelwa president Simone Mizzi claimed.

The facade is the only remaining feature of the building’s shell in the area known as il-Piazzetta, opposite Għar id-Dud.

Mark Gasan, of Gasan Group, has filed plans to build an apartment block with offices and shops at the lower levels, basement garages and a public garden. The project also includes restoring the façade.

However, Mepa’s Cultural Heritage Committee said it found the proposal aesthetically “objectionable” as it did not give “due prominence to the existing façade”.

This concern was reiterated by Ms Mizzi, who pointed out that the former naval clinic was “one of the most beautiful examples” of the fine architecture Sliema “still enjoys” in parts.

People do not understand how important it is to keep what is truly ours as Maltese if we are to retain identity

Although “totally dwarfed” by the surrounding development, the restoration and retention of its façade would “pay tribute” to noble buildings lost over Malta.

“It will form part of the collective memory of an architecture that was ours alone, unlike the banal modern buildings that have been built around it,” she said.

Although she had not seen the final design, she agreed with the heritage committee’s stance.

“The proposed building is top heavy and should be receded further to make distinction between the old and the new, bringing back a minimum of integrity to the original fine façade,” Ms Mizzi said.

Projecting balconies dominated the whole building, leaving the old part without any dignity or significance of its own, she added.

It was an example of the recurring argument whether extensions above or around old architecture should replicate or create a contrast.

Without a design review committee, such as the former aesthetics board, many fine old buildings were losing their meaning.

Any additions should be done with sensitivity to the building’s context, he said.

Two good examples were the new block at Tower Road corner with Milner Street and the new Lombard Bank “as the former leaves the beautiful, old building completely out of context but the other retains its significance”.

Developers were generally insensitive to the value of Malta’s traditional architecture with many saying that old buildings were not fit for modern living, she said.

“These people do not understand how important it is to keep what is truly ours as Maltese if we are to retain identity,” Ms Mizzi said.

Only a design review committee could lead the way on this because the planning authority’s aim was to commercially exploit sites by squeezing in as many floors as possible in the space allowed, she claimed.

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