City Gate will be replaced by an eight-metre wide breach in the bastions, according to Renzo Piano's new plans for the entrance to Valletta, revealed in a ceremony this evening.
Freedom Square will be replaced by two interconnecting building blocks on stilts which will be Malta's first ever Parliament House. They will have a transparent ground floor housing a modern exhibition of Malta's history and political development.
The Opera House site will become an open air theatre incorporating the old ruins, and the site will also serve as a piazza when there are no performances.
Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi greeted the designs and said the project should unite all the people in pride for their capital city.
Infrastructure Minister Austin Gatt said the current generation would hand over a better Valletta to future generations.
Architect Renzo Piano explained his plans, introducing his explanation by saying " I love this island, this city, this street".
He said that before coming up with his plans he had to listen.
"Listening is something very important. It does not mean that you have to be obedient, but people and places have a story to tell, so have stones, and you have to listen to stones," he said.
The project, costing €80 million, is expected to be taken in hand early next year and completed in four years.
CITY GATE - A BREACH IN THE BASTIONS
The designers explained that the plan for the new City Gate - the fifth in Valletta's history - is to give back to the bastion walls their original expression of depth and strength by enhancing the feeling of narrowness while at the same time opening up the view to the perspective of Republic Street. The breach will only be eight metres wide, and the bridge to it will be partly surfaced with wood.
The current street crossing above will be demolished and two large and gently sloped stairs, reminiscent of the dramatic staircases flanking the gate before the creation of Freedom Square, will lead from both St James’ and St John’s Cavaliers down to Republic Street. The fortifications will appear in their full height and strength from the inside, an image that is currently impossible due to the presence of the arcade and shop fronts on Freedom Square.
Gate and ditch shall be connected through a redesigned stair and an exterior, panoramic lift. The car park will be replaced by a garden and promenade, the aim being to make a visit to the ditch "an extraordinary experience" and a venue for events.
PARLIAMENT HOUSE ON FREEDOM SQUARE
The parking lot on Freedom Square is to be replaced by Parliament House consisting of two blocks built on stilts with a transparent ground floor that gives the impression of suspension in the year.
The ground floor will house an interactive Museum of Maltese history and political development. The display will feature the newest means of communication and information, including user activated and interactive screens, large screens for sequential presentations and 360 degree imagery.
The two blocks will be separated by a central courtyard that will form the entrance. The East block will house mainly the chamber and the speaker’s office; the West, all administrative offices for MPs, the Prime Minister, ministers, and the leader of the Opposition.
The Old Railway tunnel (beneath Freedom Square) will be connected to a sunken garden in such a way as to make this otherwise unusable historical subterranean structure amenable for public use while preserving its authenticity and legibility.
The building will feature a system of heat pumps to create a “zero (CO2) emission” building whose energy will be recovered by heat exchange with the underlying rock.
THE OPERA HOUSE SITE
The designers explained that three simple thoughts led them to propose the use the opera site for outdoor performances:
First, the site is too small to contain a Parliament building as was initially envisaged. Secondly, a modern opera, of conventional size, would equally not fit in this place considering today’s requirements for rehearsal, back stage facilities and accessibility, besides generating exorbitant running costs. Thirdly,after more than 60 years of controversy, the ruins of the demolished opera have undeniably reached the status of monument, irrevocable witness of history and the dignity of collective memory.
The project envisages the preservation of all the existing stone work and the reuse of some of the still existing scattered fragments to complete and embellish the ruin. A new, very light skin or façade will define the space, supported by a surrounding alignment of steel masts and columns. These will carry removable walls, lighting systems, acoustic and sound equipment, and shall give the space its specific identity during the staging of performances.
When the theatre is unused, the place will be an open piazza with a shallow stepped seating deck, totally accessible and offering the view towards Castille, to the Churches of Santa Catarina and Our Lady of Victories and Saint James Cavalier.
The translucent wall elements shall be constructed in such a way, that they can enclose the space, but also remain sunken, so that performances can be held in the most extraordinary scenery of some of the city’s best buildings. This “open air opera”, if correctly equipped with the adequate systems of modern communication, light projection and controlled, directive electro-acoustic sound systems, will be very rare in the Mediterranean and offer to many art groups an outstanding place to perform, the designers said.
The capacity will be for about 1,200 spectators.
The designs of the project are on display at the National Museum of Archaeology in Republic Street, Valletta. The exhibition remains open up to the end of July.
The designs are available at: