St Barbara’s Bastion is situated in the historic centre of Valletta in Malta, boasting magnificent views of the harbour and the Three Cities. Architecture Project implemented the three part brief for this project which included; the construction of a contemporary office space within the old building to include light, comfort and ease of access; to build a high end, luxury residential space located on the uppermost level of the building; and finally to create separate entrances to accommodate the two functions of the building; the residential and office space.
Optimal use of space
"Normally planning regulations required that access to premises with different uses be done via separate entrances, and therefore the refurbishment of the building needed to address this issue” explains Alberto Miceli Farrugia, the architect in charge of the project. By combining the two stairs in a single volume we saved a significant amount of space, while providing independent access to both floors of offices and the residential area on the top floor. It was this approach which allowed us to get the necessary planning permission".The solid partitions dressed in walnut veneer on each side of the two staircases also help to clearly separate each stairwell.
The cost of the staircase was high but it provides spatial optimisation and responds to the client's wish for an iconic design solution. "The fact that the client understood the added value inherent in the creation of a bold formal statement with the design of the staircase was an enormous asset to the design process," says Miceli Farrugia.
The building was laid out over three levels; the ground floor is a common reception area, which acts as the main entrance into the redeveloped building. The first floor is a mezzanine level, introduced to maximise space, and is fitted out with offices that are available to rent. The second floor is taken up by the clients’ offices, whilst the third is a luxury penthouse for the owner. The outstanding views of the Grand Harbour and seafront, place this building on the highest market niche but they were also the principal elements in the design concept. The client wanted the renovated building to radiate elegance and dignity which is why the rich chocolate colour of walnut was a perfect fit. The choice of this timber was successful in providing a warmth and aesthetic appeal to the project.
A complex project to implement
The staircase was made by a building contractor who works with both wood and metal. The different sections of the supporting metal structure were made in the workshop before being assembled on site. By that stage the top floor had already been renovated so the various members had to be lowered through the windows on the top floor. In fact the whole stair structure had to be assembled from top to bottom.Tie rods and metal plates secured the staircase members to the walls of the building. The rises and treads in solid walnut were then added to the structure as well as the plywood side panels, which were dressed in walnut veneer and act as balustrades.
“We appreciate the dark colours of American walnut” explains Miceli Farrugia “because they contrast nicely with the harsh light in Malta. Thanks to its good level of mechanical resistance it is also a very versatile hardwood that we were able to specify it to make the stairs but also for the bespoke joinery in different parts of the building and the flooring on the top floor landing. The fact that this hardwood specie is also readily available and it comes from sustainably managed resources also reassured us.”
Climbing through a giant tree trunk
The ‘double-helix’ style structure is conceived as one sculptural mass combining two separate winding staircases which lead to both the office and residential levels independently. The design is a re-interpretation of the helical structure, yet its dark, almost eerie atmospheric quality is the real unique aspect of this architectural feature. The lighting in the space is minimal and unobtrusive yet its dimness is essential for the success of the design. It merely guides the visitor through the space rather than actually filling the area with light. Moreover, the source of light is hidden so that the resulting glow creates a sensation of climbing through a giant tree trunk, or cavernous passageway, where natural light has all but been cut-out.
St Barbara Bastions won the ‘Creative Re-Use category at the Inside Festival of Interiors Awards in Barcelona last year. The Festival’s acclaimed judging panel which was comprised of internationally respected designers and key industry figures, declared: “The winner, we felt, pushed the boundaries to the limit with a successful and creative adaption of a historical building by inserting a strong spatial element. This building is also a strong and significant asset to Malta.”