Architecture of Hope
Hello and welcome to our new Malta Community of Illustrators Blog! Here we’ll be posting wordier articles and interviews that aren’t exactly suitable to post on our Instagram / Facebook Page.
We have recently launched Artna.online, an online exhibition of illustrated posters about the destruction of Malta’s environment. Please visit to see how you can help out, and you can also save and print beautifully illustrated posters created by our members.
Soon after we opened our exhibition, we noticed architect Katja Abela, partner at Atelier Maison, sharing our posts and urging other architects to ‘design with social responsibility’. We decided to get in touch with Katja and ask her a few questions because even though we are illustrators, we know that architecture plays a fundamental role in the state of Malta’s environment, and that is what our current exhibition is all about.
So what does designing with social responsibility mean in simple terms?
As architects we learn, study and graduate from The Faculty of the Built Environment. Therefore when we accept our degree, we are also accepting social responsibility to the public at large, who use that same Built Environment. We are responsible for shaping and moulding what is being built around us — so yes, architects have a massive social responsibility as their work is being perceived and experienced by the public every single day.
In his book ’The Eyes of the Skin’, Juhani Pallasmaa writes “Every touching experience of architecture is multi-sensory; qualities of space, matter and scale are measured equally by the eye, ear, nose, skin, tongue, skeleton and muscle. Architecture strengthens the existential experience, one’s sense of being in the world, and this is essentially a strengthened experience of self.”
As architects, when designing a building, there should be a clear understanding of how that building is going to be used by the end user. Therefore, an interest in the end user’s way of life is essential to the way a building will be shaped and designed. Architecture is a powerful tool. It can influence the way one feels. It can resonate in one’s memory.
It is the architects’ responsibility to provide spaces for the client, that the client himself did not know they actually needed yet — in order to help improve the everyday basic rituals in one’s life — making the end user’s life simple — helping the end user organising a space; providing spaces that give a sense of belonging; directing natural and architectural light to the specific places where it’s needed according to the basic tasks a specific space is serving.
At university we are trained to explore challenging scenarios and design building typologies which can help the end user — like hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centres, social housing, office spaces and places of leisure. And the brief given to us by our tutors is ‘how can you use architecture to improve a person’s life and well being?’ This same question should be the ethos of every single architect. Times like these are those that make us appreciate the spaces where we live, work, love, interact and die — the places that define our very own existence.
Why isn’t this ‘socially responsible design’ being done now? What legacy are we leaving behind with the current architecture design mindset?
Development shouldn’t be a dirty word. Development can be good. Take a look around the world across our shores. There are some really exciting things happening when it comes to new contemporary architecture. If development is done with good intentions and with innovation in mind, it can be a great thing. In Malta we had an opportunity and we lost it.
The ugliness that is being produced right now is what we call ‘disposable development’ — development which shouts out a lack of vision and sometimes even horrific self-centric statements with no sense of craftsmanship and humble statement to serve its occupants and surrounding community.
That is the legacy that we are leaving behind, and the mindset that we are teaching our children. But sad as it may be, as long as we have cash in our pockets, we are happy — Cash is King. During this time of uncertainty, (being a pandemic as well as other recent incidents/ accidents) the construction industry is being pushed to carry on. While the rest of the country — together with the rest of the world — is pressing the reset button, the construction industry is still being pushed to its limits. We ask — What is going to happen to all this excessive surplus of apartment blocks around us once the economy is hit good and hard? What is going to happen when we realise that we wasted most of the best of times and resources on unsustainable and impersonal pigeon holes?
This powerful exhibition Artna.online should be a wake up call — that our island is being destroyed because of greed. One of the dangers of greed is, it rarely has forward planning. Malta is a gem of an island, but that gem is slowly turning into a lump of coal.
What is the solution?
Macro- vision: One of the many measures that should be put into place is a new master plan of the island. Individual developments have to stop being looked at in isolation, and a well thought out master plan of the entire island needs to be discussed, developed and implemented.
One which includes the surrounding community of each development; which includes semi-public spaces; where the natural environment is the priority and the built environment is there to serve and improve. A masterplan is a tool for a long term vision and gives definition to when a development of an area should stop and consider that area as complete — avoiding over-development and the constant re-development of the in-between spaces (roads, pavements, landscaped areas), as though these spaces do not belong to anyone, just because a third party decided to start his development as soon as the previous is complete.
Before, the pandemic and even before the boom, we already had a problem with a lot of old vacant buildings, which can cost a fortune to re-fit and regenerate. These are the few valuable portions of historical patrimony that need to be protected and included as part of the same masterplan, in which the authorities make it more attractive for these projects to be regenerated — long term funding rather than short-term, one-time cash back.
Micro- vision: In context of the current situation of our islands, this can only be achieved by separating the authority from the beneficiary, and where a specific process which defines all roles in the process without any conflict of interest — being it the developer, the architect, the contractor etc. is adopted. Developers need to stop funding political parties and puppeteering the authorities — a process of forward planning rather than management by crisis.
The new contemporary should be an architecture of hope — one which is responsibly designed, one which gives a worthy past to future generations.
If you’d like to help out, please visit our Take Action page on Artna.online.