When driving round the University ring road, one cannot but notice the sizeable construction taking shape on the east-facing side, the side that at a certain point runs parallel to Triq Mikiel Anton Vassalli. This is the new state-of-the-art building of the Faculty of Information and Communication Technology that was made possible through European Regional Development Fund and Government of Malta funding, amounting to around €17 million.

The aim behind the building is to provide the University of Malta with a Faculty of ICT geared for excellent grade education and for interacting with national and international ICT players, on both academic and industrial levels, and from both research and collaborative perspectives.

At present, staff in the five departments of the Faculty of ICT has to occupy very restricted space which is grossly inadequate within a building originally intended for one or two small departments. This space has very limited work, teaching and laboratory space, so the staff have to share space with the engineering departments in the Faculty of Engineering building. Apart from stunting the further growth of the Faculty, this fragmented and cramped setting acts as an initial stumbling block when projecting the University’s ICT profile amongst international visitors and when potential industrial partners gauge collaboration prospects; after all, modern professional expectations are such that the resources that an entity displays are initially taken as a measure of the activity it can handle.

The new building itself is a landmark construction on the University’s Msida Campus. It is a “new building” in more than one sense. It is predominantly a steel construction with a glass outer façade. It makes use of specially engineered glass panels that are filled with an inert gas and coated with appositely calculated reflective material. The building has no windows and it is climate controlled through an advanced Building Management System (BMS). The internal climatic conditions, such as temperature, ventilation, and humidity will all be managed by an automated system.

The air-conditioning systems will be capable of detecting human presence in a room and adjust accordingly or even turn off automatically if the room is vacated. Toxic gas levels in the underground parking will be monitored and automatically ventilated/extracted if thresholds are exceeded. It is envisaged that this centralised climate control system, together with the use of the most advanced outer façade materials, will significantly reduce the energy demands of this building thus helping minimise the environmental impact that the addition of another building on campus will have.

The BMS will also handle security and safety systems, which are also fully automated. Access to the various sections and rooms of the building will be controlled through programmed access cards which will be customised to the particular needs and job requirements of an individual. All public access, student, common, and laboratory areas will be monitored by video feeds through the BMS. Together with the building’s climatic situation, intrusion and fire alarm systems will be monitored and controlled from a central control room. Some doors can be remotely controlled, yet over-ridden in case of fire or other emergency alarms. The building will adopt an open-on-emergency policy, which means that there can never be an emergency situation that would trap people in the building.

Although the building houses its own dedicated electricity sub-station to ensure a stable supply of power, it is also well equipped in terms of emergency power provision. Apart from a potent uninterrupted power supply (UPS) installation, the provision of power to the building can also be maintained by a fuel-driven generator. Another unique feature of the building is its emergency water supply. Even in case of water supply interruption, the building can rely on its own voluminous subterranean water reservoir that will always supply toilets and emergency fire-fighting equipment through a system of powerful pumps. Literally, to top it all, the building will include a considerable number of multiple arrays of photovoltaic (PV) cells located on its roof. These cells will regenerate part of the new building’s energy consumption, further reducing its carbon footprint.

The structure itself is a four-floor edifice offering approximately 6700 sq. m of floor space in total configured as two blocks connected via a central multi-storey entrance, lobby, stairwell, and lift area, with a ramp-accessed underground level 70+ car park. Yet, attention was given to the overall skyline of the University’s Msida Campus, by making sure that the elevation of the building did not in any way encumber the view from any of the existing University buildings. The various areas in the new building will include teaching labs, research rooms, tutorial rooms, undergraduate study areas, post-graduate rooms, research labs, etc.

More than a new home for our Faculty, we are looking forward to our home for a new Faculty.

Dr Cachia is the Dean of the Faculty of ICT at the University of Malta.

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