The elaborate stone-built defense that is Malta’s capital city Valletta, is one of the most impressive military architectural monuments in Europe and is well-endowed with remarkable buildings, amongst which one finds the Domus Zamitello - a palatial townhouse which dates back to the 18th century and enjoys a strategic in Valletta. The structure was found to be in a state of considerable disrepair and through EM Architect’s design implementations life was breathed back into the derelict structure through its conversion into a boutique hotel with twenty-one guest rooms. Our design process, which began more than seventeen years ago, concentrated on respecting the integral historic fabric of the building whilst simultaneously improving the façade and interior spaces. Additionally, the project also functions at an urban scale. Its restoration has effectively contributed towards Valletta's urban renewal.
Extensive restoration was carried out with the utmost care: modern interventions are distinctly visible when compared to the original structure. The entire structure from first floor upwards had been vacant for a considerable number of years and was in a severely dilapidated state. On the ground floor level, some of the existing palazzo building had been rented or sold to commercial entities and these were purchased back by the proprietor. These also had to be completely cleared out and restored. Following the obtainment of a Planning Authority permit, construction works begin and while commencing with construction, two basement levels were found. One of these levels was unfortunately still infilled with material from the Second World War and one level was found to be in a state of considerable disrepair, but was still being used as a store. The restoration works themselves took years to complete and foreign specialists were brought in to carry out such precise and skilled tasks.
The rehabilitated layout was designed so as to maximize engagement between the edifice passers-by. One enters the hotel from Republic Street though large arched doorways which lead directly into the courtyard from the main hall which is decorated by four Tuscan columns. The hotel also has a distinctive open-air terrace on the third floor, allowing guests to admire spectacular views of the Gateway to Valletta. The boutique hotels accommodates twenty-one rooms, including six suites. Each individual room has a different layout and therefore all rooms offer a unique charm. Attention to detail and guest comfort was provided in all elements of the hotel design, including but not limited to individually controlled air conditioning, underlying heated and double glazed windows.
The concept governing all design decisions was that of focusing on and exhibiting the historical and cultural layers which this edifice possesses. Constructed out of beautiful, soft Globigerina Limestone meant that elaborate stone carvings and ornamentation was employed to adorn this palatial townhouse. Severely weathered stone was replaced whilst salvageable stones were restored; decayed mortar joints were raked out and re-pointing subsequently took place; re-plastering was initiated, coating tired walls in a fresh lime wash, making sure that this delicate construction material was allowed to breath properly and expel moisture; rusted metal inserts were removed and scars filled; wooden louvers, known locally as persjani, together with the famous Maltese balconies were all also repaired, together with decorative wrought-iron railings; all internal timber doors were found to be representative of their time and were therefore preserved and restored with a suitable wood preserver and a natural wood varnish; broken stone slabs, known locally as xorok had to be replaced. Within select portions of the building, steel beams were inserted into the existing masonry structure in order to ensure structural integrity. These were then clad in timber, replicating the exact proportions of the former elements of the ceiling. The building had many architectural features which we wanted to restore and conserve for future generations: mainly the visually impressive staircase, the ‘Gran Salone’ at piano nobile level and the coffered ceiling and frieze of the ‘Gran Salone’
Wartime damage compounded with subsequent careless civil works whilst forming openings to accommodate commercial premises disfigured the original built form. Our design therefore sought to reserve these harmful acts through incorporating stone arches within the built fabric so as to reinstate structural stability whilst simultaneously emulating the original building façade as collaborated by mid-19th century photographs. All modern interventions are distinctly visible when compared to the original structure. The distinction between old and new, existing and altered is mediated via the use of contemporary materials. This distinction is extremely important in order not to muddle the timeline of the building.
The existing courtyard had previously been covered by a temporary structure (corrugated sheeting) and our design decision was to maximize the daylight and natural cross-ventilation that could be gained from an open courtyard. A retractable glass cover was designed, so that the hotel could enjoy the sustainable and aesthetic benefits of the courtyard whilst ensuring shelter from rain. In particular, the timber coffered ceiling in the gran salone at the first floor level is an architectural element of significant historic and artistic value. This ceiling had to be completed restored and some of the plaster-of-Paris rosettes which were missing as they had fallen off due to lack of maintenance had to be replaced. The walls were found to be covered in wall papers which was removed.This project was awarded the Planning Authority award for Conservation Architecture 2018 and the Din L-Art Helwa Award for the Rehabilitation and Re-Use of Buildings in 2020 and was shortlisted for the Premju Galizia 2018 Awards.
Dr. Edwin Mintoff Architects was founded over thirty years ago by Dr. Edwin Mintoff, an architect and civil engineer who became one of the first Maltese architects to obtain a doctorate Ph.D. in the field of architecture and urban design. The firm now offers a wide range of services including land and environmental planning, urban design, architectural and interior design, civil, road and structural engineering, land/quantity surveying as well as cost consultancy, both in Malta and well as overseas. The firm's design philosophy is heavily based on producing a seamless design which incorporates the principles of urban architecture.. We look to design not just the building themselves but to consider the new spaces that are created between buildings. The firm has been responsible for the development of a vast number of projects both locally as well as overseas, and has been awarded a number of local and international awards, including the ‘Prix Versaille’ and the ‘A Design’ Awards.