The €8 million Valletta Design Cluster is set to open before the end of the year, as renovation works on the Old Civil Abattoir (Il-Biċċerija) in the capital continue apace.
The 17th-century building at the end of Old Mint Street, which had lain in a dilapidated state for decades, will be given a new lease of life with co-working spaces, design studios for individuals and start-ups, exhibition space and conference rooms.
It will also include a makerspace - a fully-equipped workshop with digital and traditional tools that can be used either independently or with the help of qualified personnel.
The roof will host a garden designed by Japanese architect Tetsuo Kondo, which will be open to the public, while the complex will also include accommodation for artist residencies.
The project was first announced four years ago as part of the Valletta 2018 infrastructural programme, and was originally scheduled for completion last year. It was delayed and has now passed under the management of the new Valletta Cultural Agency, with opening planned for late 2019.
Visiting works on Wednesday, agency chairman Jason Micallef said the project had taken one of the most dilapidated buildings in Valletta and transformed it into a cultural lung for the lower part of the city.
This, he said, formed part of a wider regeneration of the area including the Auberge de Bavière and the Marsamxett harbour-front.
From residents to squatters
The building was originally constructed as an abattoir by the Knights of St John, and was eventually taken over for residential use, which continued until the 1980s.
Residents were evicted ahead of plans for the building to be demolished and converted into a housing project, but these plans were never carried out, and the complex was reinhabited by squatters.
When work on the Valletta Design Cluster started, 75 per cent of the roof had collapsed and had to be dismantled and rebuilt, with the existing material reused whenever possible, project architect Amanda Degiovanni explained.
A number of typical rooms with low mezzanines, from the building’s use as residences, have been retained and will be converted into working spaces.
Two of the building’s original eight large incinerator ovens, from its time as an abattoir, have also been retained; one will be restored to working order while the other will be used for teleconferencing.