Valentino Architects, a Valletta-based design-led architectural practice, was recently honored at the Iconic Awards, an awards program run by the German Design Council.
They were also listed in the Emerging Architecture Study of the Year category at the Dezeen awards, considered a benchmark for international design excellence.
The projects awarded are a penthouse on the Island, a jewelery shop in Tigné Point, Sliema, a hair salon at the Embassy in the City and a low-rise apartment in Balzan, all of which show the study’s focus on prioritizing a user-driven and context-driven design.
“We are pleased that our work is receiving international attention. This is the second year we have been recognized at the Iconic Awards – we see it as a brand of consistency, which is something we prioritize, ”says founding partner Peter Valentino.
“It’s also nice to be in the company of other local brands. This year, both our practice and Mizzi Studio made the long list for the Emerging Architecture Study of the Year at the Dezeen awards. That is, two Maltese studios selected from 4,700 applicants globally. “
His cousin and co-founder Sandro Valentino comments that such recognition is important for several reasons.
“It validates our team’s work, but more significantly, brings our study in sync with broader industry priorities, and helps us understand what design excellence means universally. Our biggest hope is that such awards can lead to a discussion about design and aesthetics locally, ”he says.
Sandro describes the projects awarded as “aesthetic ambassadors for the studio”.
Diamond Art rethinks retail space, borrowing from the tradition of art galleries as opposed to flashy jewelry stores; 14 East Penthouse challenges the concept of living an open plan against a closed one; while the Dean Gera Salon features a space-reducing interior, creating a processional route through the different areas of the salon.
“Our focus now is to make all our projects more sustainable, while keeping design a priority. We believe that the two are reciprocal, ”says Sandro.
Peter explains that their mission has always been to make a building that is defined by “design integrity”.
“We are especially motivated to achieve that goal through environmentally and socially driven design. This could mean challenging Malta’s automated systems, raising dialogue on going construction methods, policy planning and aesthetic direction, and even questioning the role of the architect. “
Switching to ‘common good’
While many complain about Malta’s overdevelopment, with continued construction and high-rise buildings leading to the island’s ugliness, Sandro says the problem is not that Malta is overdeveloped but that “it is overbuilt”.
“Development is, in essence, a positive term, indicating the forward movement of our built environment. But in recent history, we haven’t seen much architecture, mostly just construction, ”he points out.
“Our urban landscape is dominated by commercially driven construction aimed at maximizing short-term return, with very few public, cultural or community projects delivered on balance. This caused the destruction of the periphery of the heart of our village, urban sprawl, environmental damage and general beast. “
He notes that development and density “can be positive” if they are accompanied by forward thinking as has been done abroad, including in cities with a rich heritage context. As an example, Sandro cites the Porta Nuova district in Milan as “respecting the city’s existing fabric” and is recognized as an urban success story. It all boils down to sound planning and an emphasis on world-class design, he says.
He adds that, locally, we must turn our attention to “common good”.
“This means that you believe that construction is a particular right simply because someone owns a piece of land. Development should only take place if it is for the benefit of society, and never to the detriment of the environment, ”he stresses.
Peter continues: “Right now, all the construction industry is doing is building towards a promise of ‘profit’, which is a false goal for a better life. All of this is happening with little long-term thinking or understanding of the environmental consequences. “
He argues that for the industry to be more sustainable, priority should be given to high-quality design, well-being and low-impact building techniques.
“We need to be more aware of the consequences of our actions – the impact of digging a hole to build a basement, the supply of materials, the demolition of buildings without consideration for reuse,” he says Peter.
“Malta’s architecture and construction industry must be transformed into a predominantly modernized model. The island is abundant in the stock of existing buildings and makes a perfect case to reuse what is already there. This needs to be incentivized by national policy – VAT reductions on retrofit projects are being lobbied elsewhere in Europe. Malta has every opportunity to lead on this front. ”
Sandro adds that for an existing building to survive, it needs to be carefully adapted to meet the needs of contemporary society. And when the marriage between old and new buildings becomes sensitive, it “characterizes the evolution of our built environment”.
“Today, a lot of people are afraid of what is badly called as‘ modern ’architecture and are sadly paralyzed by nostalgia,” he says.
“This is understandable, considering the state of the built environment. There is also little exposure to good contemporary architecture locally, so people find comfort in what is familiar, often supporting the replication of traditional buildings as opposed to reinterpretation. ”
The duo agrees that this is another reason why international awards are important: “They penetrate popular culture, encouraging a collective understanding of how contemporary design can improve the way we live.”
The second part will be published tomorrow.
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