This photo from “Totemic elevator” on Geoff Manaugh’s fine blog BLDGBLOG had me fooled for a moment. The shot shows a lovely scene taken along the fortifications of Valletta, the capital of the island nation of Malta in the Mediterraean Sea, between Sicily and Libya. I visited once at the invitation of former Providence mayor Joseph Paolino Jr., who had been appointed ambassador by Bill Clinton The harbor at Valletta is where the Knights of Malta held off Turkey’s emperor Suleiman the Magnificent in the Great Siege of 1565. There was a lot of catapulting of severed heads back and forth. It was not a civilized engagement.
I don’t like some of the architecture that has arisen in Malta – which a colleague once described as “Baroque from stem to stern” – in recent decades. But like Paris and Providence, Malta’s historic fabric is too intact to easily overwhelm. While I was there, however, I met an architect, a Malta native, Richard England. whose goal in life was, it seemed, to deprive the nation of its history. And yet there was an effort to synthsize with that history in his work. Not enough, however. Maybe he was the designer of the stand-alone elevator near the center of the fabulous photo above. It almost looks as if it fits in, but when you see the close-up shot (below) at the end of Manaugh’s text, the degree of its insult to its surroundings becomes clear.
London has done modern architecture all wrong, allowing it to permeate the historical center of the city. Paris had been doing it right for decades (with the Tour Montparnesse the one appalling major exception) until recently, when the City of Light has come under ISIS-like assault from its own barbarian mayor. Valletta, when I was there in 1996, had kept modernism to a minimum. I have not been there since, and I hope that aside from such twits as this elevator the principle is still being upheld.
In 1996 I wrote three columns about my trip to Malta, including one generally about its history, another about its architecture, and a third, called “An Ocean State cabal?,” about the curious goings on in the embassy and at the ambassador’s residence. Unfortunately, I’ve only put the last of these online, as a sort of memorial to Mayor Cianci after his death. If anyone wants me to dig out the other two, please let me know and I will try. (Getting to the Journal’s online archive is difficult these days for some reason.)
Adding insult to injury in this case is that Valletta was the site of the meeting of ICOMOS, the international body that coordinates heritage conservation policies worldwide, that adopted what are now referred to as the Valletta Principles of 2011 on the conservation of the built environment. reprising the UNESCO Nairobi Recommendation of 1976. Here’s an excerpt:
“Every historic area and its surroundings should be considered in its totality as a coherent whole whose balance and specific nature depend on the fusion of the parts of which it is composed and which include […] the spatial organization and the surroundings.” The full text of the Valletta Principles is available at . http://www.icomos.org/Paris2011/GA2011_CIVVIH_text_EN_FR_final_20120110.pdf.
These principles go a long way to correct the errors flowing from the misinterpretation of the Venice Charter of 1964, the document that (ironically or paradoxically) the illustrated elevator seems to be conforming to. Maybe the hometown architects and their clients should read it.
Aye, Steve! The principles do go a long way to correct the errors, etc., etc., if anyone pays any attention to them!