La Valletta City Gate

Valletta / Malta / 2015

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The ‘City Gate’ project takes in the complete reorganisation of the principal entrance to the Maltese capital of Valletta. The project comprises four parts: the Valletta City Gate and its site immediately outside the city walls, the design for an open-air theatre ‘machine’ within the ruins of the former Royal opera house, the construction of a new Parliament building and the landscaping of the ditch.


The gate, the ditch and the city walls

A bridge’s width is usually defined in relation to its length. However, the bridge leading across the ditch to the Valletta City Gate had been repeatedly enlarged over time until it had lost both its initial shape and function, becoming more city square than bridge.

With the aim of resolving this rather unsatisfactory transformation, the project focuses on returning the bridge to its 1633 ‘Dingli’s Gate’ dimensions, by demolishing later additions. This allows passers-by to once again have the sensation of crossing a real bridge, and gives them views of the ditch and fortifications.

Valletta’s first city gate, which was probably a single tunnel through the city’s ramparts, has been remodelled through the years, considerably altering the image of a fortified city gate. The most recent modification, completed 50 years ago, involved demolishing 32m of the city wall, distorting the impact of the entrance into the city.

The first objective of the project was therefore to reinstate the ramparts’ original feeling of depth and strength and to reinforce the narrowness of the entrance to the city, while opening up views of Republic Street. The new city gate is a ‘breach’ in the wall only 8m wide. The relationship between the original fortifications and those that have been reconstructed is made clear by the insertion of powerful 60mm-thick steel ‘blades’ that slice through the wall between old and new.

The key element of this redevelopment was opening the gate to the sky. The section of Pope Pius V Street that formerly ran immediately inside the gate at a raised level has been demolished and replaced by two wide, gently sloping flights of steps to each side of the new gate, inspired by the stairs that had framed the gate before the construction of Freedom Square. These stairs link the bastions of St James’s Cavalier and St John’s Cavalier to the lower level Republic Street. This rearrangement frees the fortifications from the arcade that formerly obscured them, allowing them to be seen to their full height and power.

The gate and the ditch will be linked by a stairway and a lift with panoramic views, allowing visitors to descend to the depths of the ditch, now planted with gardens. The car park that formerly occupied the ditch has been replaced by lush, refreshing gardens – an ideal place for a stroll or relaxation, a very pleasant new space to explore. Open-air events can also be organised here against the historical backdrop.

The architecture of the new city gate is very restrained, giving an impression of strength and austerity, stripped of extraneous decoration that would undermine its timeless, honest quality. Its tapered shape and the two great steel poles, each 25m high, are enough to lend this breach in the wall the status of the Valletta City Gate.

The gateway is made of immense blocks of stone, delimited and framed by the tall steel ‘blades’ that are used to highlight the junction of old and new – steel and stone in a dialogue of nature, strength and history. A new ‘hard stone’ quarry on Gozo was opened up specifically to provide stone for this project.


The Parliament, an environmentally responsible building

The parliament building is made up of two massive blocks in stone that are balanced on slender columns to give the building a sense of lightness, the whole respecting the line of the existing street layout. The northernmost block is principally given over to the parliament chamber, while the south block accommodates members of parliament’s offices and the offices of the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition.

Creating a porous urban block was at the forefront of the building’s volumetric design. The two blocks are separated by a central courtyard, which also serves as the main entrance to the building. The courtyard is conceived in such a way that views through to St James’s Cavalier from Republic Street are not obscured. The new parliament building is detached from the St James’s Cavalier bastion, highlighting the latter’s structure and historic size as part of the city’s fortifications.

The parliament’s facades are finished in solid stone. This stone has been sculpted as though eroded by the direction of the sun and the views around it, creating a fully functional device that filters solar radiation while allowing natural daylight inside, all the while maintaining views from the building. Each of these blocks of facade has been sculpted by a numerically controlled machine. The result is a stone architecture that is fitting for its historic context but also the product of cutting-edge technology.

Generally it is the density and dynamism of a building’s ground floor that brings it to life, driving a hive of activity in the rest of the building; this is how the ground floor was conceived here, as a flexible cultural space, fully fitted out with a full range of multimedia services.  It is an ideal space for temporary or permanent exhibitions, all fully visible from outside the building, serving as a sort of cultural outpost at the entrance to Valletta.

Certain organisations and parliament-related activities will be housed on the building’s basement level, which opens onto a planted, shaded courtyard. The old Malta railway tunnel is also connected to this lower level garden space, restoring the old underground structure that had been used as a garage, and making it accessible to the public.

Energy use and environmental considerations are principal components in the design of this building. On the one hand, stone is used for the building’s facade to diminish solar heat gain and to allow natural ventilation. Stone is also effective as part of the building’s geothermal heat exchanger, with 40 geothermal boreholes sunk into rock to depths of 140m, 100m below sea-level.

In addition, the roof is covered with 600 sq m of photovoltaic panels – an ambitious energy strategy that allows the building to generate 80% of the energy required to heat it in the winter and 60% of its requirements to cool it in the summer months.


The Royal Opera House site

Built between 1862 and 1866 by E.M. Barry, the Royal Opera House was destroyed during the bombardments of 1942. Ever since, its ruins have been treated like archaeological remains; evidence of the site’s history, and fragments of local collective memory. The ruins have now been restored, made secure and integrated into the new project for an open-air theatre. When events are not being held here, the theatre functions as an open piazza, a public city space, a social space. During the summer, the steel structure placed within the historic remains works like a ‘theatre machine’. Almost 1,000 seats are installed and a theatre takes form for a season of opera, dance, theatre and concerts, a programme that requires a variety of theatre configurations that are made possible thanks to the structure’s mechanised stage and theatre wings. The theatre is also equipped with an ERES acoustic enhancement system that can recreate the reverberations and acoustics of an interior concert hall space – an innovative modern technique for this historic Mediterranean site.


Design Team: A.Belvedere, B. Plattner (partners in charge) with D.Franceschin, P.Colonna, P.Pires da Fonte, S.Giorgio-Marrano, N.Baniahmad, A.Boucsein, J.Da Nova, T.Gantner, N.Delevaux, N. Byrelid, R.Tse and B.Alves de Campos, J.LaBoskey, A.Panchasara, A.Thompson; S.Moreau; O. Aubert, C.Colson, Y.Kyrkos (models)

Consultants: Arup (acoustics, civil, structural and MEP engineering); Kevin Ramsey (stone consultant), Daniele Abbado (theatre consultant), Franck Franjou (lighting), Studio Giorgetta (landscaping), Silvano Cova (theatre special equipment).



La città della Valletta, iscritta al Patrimonio Mondiale del’UNESCO, ha conservato nel tempo un forte carattere barocco, grandi bastioni circondano la città dandole ancora oggi l’aspetto di una fortezza. La porta di accesso alla città ed il ponte in particolare avevano subito molte trasformazioni nel tempo fino a perdere la forma e funzione iniziale. Il ponte era diventato una sorta di larga piazza che copriva il fossato. L’obbiettivo del progetto é stato di riportare il ponte alle dimensioni originali sul modello della Dingli’s Gate del 1633.

Il nuovo passaggio vuole essere una sorta di breccia nel muro di cinta largo 8m, esso riprende l’altezza delle antiche fortificazioni (circa 10m.) ed é più stretto della porta preesistente. La nuova dimensione esalta la funzione di messa in prospettiva della Republic Street. La differenza tra gli elementi originali e la nuova costruzione é sottolineata da possenti lame di acciaio di 60 millimetri di spessore che incorniciano grandi blocchi di pietra. L’altezza dei blocchi varia da 40 cm fino a 3.20 m di altezza, per uno spessore tra i 20 e i 60 cm, tutti gli angoli sono composti da blocchi monolitici. La demolizione della strada Pope Pius V, che sovrastava la vecchia porta, ha permesso di dare maggior respiro al nuovo spazio. Due scalinate larghe in lieve pendenza collegano i bastioni alla Republic Street. La porta é collegata tramite una scala e un’ascensore panoramico al fossato dove un giardino sostituisce un parcheggio.

Il sito della Royal Opera House distrutta durante i bombardamenti del 1942 è diventato una piazza, un “teatro all’aperto” di una capienza di 918 posti più 6 posti disabili. Le rovine dell’Opera sono una testimonianza della storia, la loro presenza é parte della memoria collettiva e, integrate nel progetto, diventano un riferimento per il luogo. Una struttura in acciaio è poggiata sulle vecchie fondazioni per sostenere un deck in legno, che durante l’inverno funge da piazza urbana completamente accessibile e fruibile dalle strade limitrofe. L’estate la piazza si attrezza per divenire spazio per performances all’esterno. Due fosse orchestrali movibili ed un backstage rotabile trasformano lo spazio per accogliere diverse configurazioni per concerti, opera, operetta e danza. Un impianto acustico ERES consente di ottenere all’aperto la riverberazione di una sala chiusa. Una tecnologia assolutamente innovativa che rende questo spazio artistico un luogo esclusivo.

Il nuovo Parlamento é stato costruito subito dopo la porta all’entrata della città, l’edificio occupa una parte della Piazza della Libertà lasciando uno spazio libero di 60 per 25 metri. Al piano terra é stato posto uno centro culturale interattivo visibile dall’esterno. Il Parlamento é costituito di due blocchi massicci di pietra posti su pilotis che rispettano l’allineamento della strada. Il blocco Nord accoglie la camera del Parlamento, nel blocco Sud gli uffici amministrativi dei membri del Parlamento, del Primo Ministro e dei leader dell’opposizione. Dalla corte centrale, visibile dalla strada St John’s Cavalier, si accede all’ingresso principale del Parlamento. La facciata é in pietra massiccia, ogni modulo é stato scolpito con una macchina a controllo numerico ed é stato assemblato a secco con supporti in acciaio. Questo sistema crea un filtro per la vista e la luce naturale.

L’aspetto energetico é stato un dato importante per creare un edificio a “emissione zero di CO2”. La strategia energetica del progetto si basa sull’apporto di 40 pozzi di 140 metri di profondità, di cui 100 al disotto del livello del mare, e di un tappetto di 600 m2 di pannelli fotovoltaici posti in copertura. Il progetto prende inoltre in considerazione l’apporto di energia recuperata dall’immensa massa di pietra per riscaldare e raffreddare gli ambienti. L’edificio dovrebbe essere autosufficiente a 100% per il riscaldamento durante l’inverno e a 80% per il raffreddamento durante i mesi estivi.

Una cava di pietra “hard stone” é stata appositamente aperta per questo cantiere a Gozo, la seconda isola dell’Arcipelago maltese. I materiali usati in questo progetto l’acciaio e la pietra si parlano in un dialogo che esprime la modernità legata alla tradizione.





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    The ‘City Gate’ project takes in the complete reorganisation of the principal entrance to the Maltese capital of Valletta. The project comprises four parts: the Valletta City Gate and its site immediately outside the city walls, the design for an open-air theatre ‘machine’ within the ruins of the former Royal opera house, the construction of a new Parliament building and the landscaping of the ditch.   The gate, the ditch and the city walls A bridge’s width...

    Project details
    • Year 2015
    • Work started in 2008
    • Work finished in 2015
    • Client Grand Harbour Regeneration Corporation plc
    • Contractor CFF Filiberti
    • Cost 80milioni€
    • Status Current works
    • Type Restoration of old town centres
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