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People walking in tunnelMalta’s urban spaces are an integral part of the islands landscape and culture, and ultimately, on our quality of life. But aesthetics in architectural design is a subjective matter that inspires debate on all levels of society; from cityscapes to streetscapes, open spaces to high rise buildings, our built environment has a profound impact on society – be it at an individual level, societal level or within the natural environment.

It should therefore come as little surprise that the visual and functional design of architectural projects is often subject to debate, with new and old projects alike being met with different opinions and views. But as the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the designed environment is a subjective topic, with opinions on architectural aesthetics and functionality varying from each individual to the next.


Of course, Malta’s architects certainly hold their own views on the subject. According to Architect Vincent Cassar , Chairman of il-Kamra tal-Periti, “the quality of architecture in Malta is slipping and it needs to be addressed by all stakeholders involved, including architects themselves as well as the relevant authorities.”

Architect Cassar explains that when analysing the designed environment, aesthetics cannot be taken into isolation. “It is essential that an architectural project is put into context. One must consider the surrounding environment of the project, how its function can be rendered as environmentally friendly as possible and how its design can complement the surroundings. As a result of these factors, a building can have a positive impact on our quality of life, enhancing the urban environment 60,000 to 21 URbaN PRoJECtS and our street and cityscapes."

Just over two years ago, members of the Kamra tal-Periti put their heads together to come up with clear guidelines that could shape the direction of architecture in Malta. The result, the urban Challenge, pinpoints the main issues that should be taken into consideration including the fact that aesthetics cannot be taken in isolation.

“Our main aim in this respect was to highlight how architecture impacts on our quality of life and to highlight practical ways in which architectural design can be enhanced. In my opinion, Malta is certainly facing problems in this regard and action needs to be taken immediately,” he explains.

“Unfortunately, the suggestions made by the Kamra tal-Periti have not as yet been taken up by all stakeholders but we hope this situation will change in the near future. While the MEPA reform was more of an administrative reform, it provided an ideal setting for stakeholders to address the issues faced in the area of architecture. now, it is important that this opportunity is seized,” he states.

Well-known architect, Jacques Borg Barthet, agrees that aesthetics in architectural design is a subjective topic and says that “I prefer to speak of design quality than aesthetics. Aesthetics is often associated with stylistic preferences, yet I believe that all styles can lend themselves to the creation of quality architecture.”

“I find it useful to refer to the Roman architect Vitruvius who synthesised architecture under the maxim of commodity, firmness and delight,” he continues to explain. “By ‘commodity’ I understand the appropriateness of the design for the intended purpose and users, By ‘firmness’ I understand that the project should be soundly constructed and responsive to the elements, and by ‘delight’, I understand that it should be appealing to the senses, wherein i would include the dimensions of memory, mystery and meaning.”

According to Architect Borg Barthet, many recent interventions in the built environment lack many of the characteristics identified above, although efforts at quality design are materialising more often, and design awareness is increasing.

“Awareness of the value of design quality is critical because ultimately the built environment is the product of the involvement of several actors – from clients, to patrons, architects, contractors, and regulators. The quality of the built environment is affected by decisions across the board from transport, to building regulations, planning to public procurement. Significant improvements will necessitate integrated thinking and action as well as skillful design,” he says.

“In this sense, we still need to recognise the value of urban design, and its effective cross-disciplinary, problem-solving approach to the multi-faceted reality of the public realm,” Architect Borg Barthet concludes. One suggestion that was put forward by the Kamra tal-Periti was in this respect involved the setting up of a ‘design review committee’. Architect Cassar explains that “certain large projects should be subjected to a more rigorous design review process. I believe that it is essential that the design of large projects are reviewed by a panel of experts even before they are submitted to MEPA.”

“The aesthetics, function and impact on the surrounding area should also be assessed at an early stage with recommendations for improvement being put forward before the designs are concluded and submitted for review by the authority and by the public,” he concludes.

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