The “war” to retain Malta’s architectural identity and character has been lost, according to renowned architect Richard England.
England was speaking at an activity held by Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA). Interviewed by Jorg Sicot, an architect and designer himself, England shared his life experiences with a crowd of young and old at the Phoenicia Hotel. He had harsh words for Malta’s environmental state.
“The FAA has done a great job to win battles but, I’m afraid, we’ve lost the war,” he said.
He said that current generations remember a different Malta but “what makes me sad is that, in three or four generations, they [people] won’t even have the memory.
“I remember Malta as a virgin; she has now become a whore,” he said referring to comments he made in 2019.
He said that Gozo’s character can still be saved and the Gozo minister has an enormous weight on his shoulders to save the island.
“You’re not going to stop the development but you can curb it and you can control it,” he said.
He said the Planning Authority needs to understand that context is everything; a building can be beautiful but it can be in the wrong place, he said.
Context tells architects if they need to be bold or humble, he added.
“Most of the time we need to be humble.”
He said, in the future, places that retain their “spirit of place” will attract people and have emotional and monetary value.
England was speaking weeks after being granted the Freedom of the City of London, an award dating back to the 13th century.
Writer J.K Rowling, the late opera singer Luciano Pavarotti and the England women’s football team have all won the award in the past.
England said that buildings can make a person feel different emotions.
“A space can make you feel nervous or caress and cuddle you,” he said.
“We shape our buildings but, in the end, those buildings shape us,” he said.
England remarked that, among other art forms, architecture is the least permanent.
“No one would touch a painting, sculpture or a verse to a poem or a chapter to a book,” he said, adding that, the moment you hand over the architecture to a client, he owns it and, months later, it’s all gone.
He said that many of his earlier works have been changed completely or have disappeared altogether.
One structure that has remained is the Manikata parish church, one of England’s best known works.
He said that the church was originally commissioned to England by his father, an architect himself, but was passed on to him.
“I could not have got a dearest or better present from a loving father,” he said.
“Regretfully, he did not live long enough to see the building completed because it took 12 years [to complete].”