Piano says : leave your cars outside

times_of_malta196x703published July 4, 2009

by Carmel Cacopardo




Renzo Piano

Renzo Piano’s proposals, which were launched last week, will remove the 1965 City Gate. Any proposal to substitute the 1965 Valletta entrance would be an improvement!

The debate in the newspapers and online is generally focusing on the open air theatre with some commenting also on the loss of Freedom Square as an open space.

Through the removal of the present City Gate and presenting us with an opening in the bastions, Mr Piano is expressing a change in the function of the Valletta fortifications: from keeping the enemy outside to inviting visitors within.

As a direct consequence, Mr Piano makes a bolder statement: overlying the 1965 City Gate there is a road. Used by a substantial amount of cars entering Valletta, this road will cease to exist as Mr Piano proposes its removal together with the 1965 gate. Visitors to Valletta will thus be asked to leave their cars outside the city! It is an invitation to refrain from polluting the air in Valletta, making one’s visit a pleasanter experience. This conforms to the other green statements which Mr Piano makes in his proposals. I believe we should accept Mr Piano’s request and extend his invitation to Valletta’s visitors.

Linking this to other aspects of the project, I submit that Mr Piano’s proposals necessitate a revisiting of transport policies.

On the one hand, the Central Bank route into Valletta would cease to exist. Traffic will have to enter through St Mark Street or West Street as well as through the Mediterranean Conference Centre area.

Mr Piano’s proposal gobbles up a significant parking space. Parking space in Valletta has been diminishing gradually since the pedestrianisation of Merchants Street, South Street and the surrounding areas. This reduction of Freedom Square as a parking space necessarily means that Mr Piano is proposing that there should be a further reduction of car access into Valletta. I do not know whether the government will accept this but I hope that it will.

An acceleration of the public transport reform is a necessary consequence. The public needs to be encouraged to make more use of public transport, which it will if public transport is efficient. Efficient public transport is the best guarantee that a reduction of cars on the road will take place. If fewer cars can enter Valletta as a result of Mr Piano’s proposals, the urgent conclusion of the public transport reform is a must.

Secondly, alternative means of transport need to be further encouraged. Valletta can be easily accessed by sea. But for sea transport to be an effective means of access, circular public transport around Valletta needs to be organised regularly and efficiently.

Valletta can also be accessed by bicycles but for this to happen the bicycle lane mess around the island needs to be sorted out. Bicycle owners would also need suitable places to leave their bicycles when not in use: there aren’t any such facilities in Valletta as yet. In addition, it should be possible for bicycle users to resort to other means of transport for part of their journeys.

So far, transport issues have hardly been mentioned in the discussion on Mr Piano’s proposals. The public and the experts have concentrated on other aspects, primarily the Opera House site. Although the Opera House proposal can be improved without affecting the rest of the project, Mr Piano’s plans of retaining the ruins of the Opera House and developing them into an open-air theatre is still challenging. It can be taken up by the cultural community, which will have another site dedicated to cultural activities at a par with those found in other European countries.

Notwithstanding the contrasting views expressed, NGOs and those taking part in the discussion are doing a fine job. Discussing Valletta’s future is not the exclusive prerogative of experts, as Valletta belongs to all of us. In addition to being more tolerant of the views of others there is one point which all of us must bear in mind: the discussion cannot go on forever. A decision has to be taken.

Mr Piano’s proposal with its various elements is, in my view, the best proposal made so far integrating the city entrance with upper Valletta, leading the visitor into a rejuvenated Valletta. An upgrading of the bus terminus should be next in line for treatment!

Mr Pianos’ proposal has to be seen as a whole. An analysis of the spaces created clearly demonstrates that Mr Piano sought to link his proposal with other initiatives already taken or in hand, notably the rehabilitated St James Cavalier.

One hopes that Mr Piano’s proposal will be adopted by the government without substantial changes except for the possible improvement to the Opera House site proposal. Hopefully, Mr Piano’s proposals will be completed on time and within the allocated budget.

7 comments on “Piano says : leave your cars outside

  1. Great. The final nail in the coffin of the Theatre Royal, which is now dead, dead, dead, dead, dead.

    Was it so much to ask, that the old Opera House be rebuilt? I mean, was it so difficult to also brief the architect to design a theatre to add to his MASSIVE monument to political self-aggrandisement? And if Gonzi was generous enough to allocate €85 million of our money to a new workplace for himself and his colleagues, couldn’;t he have also conceded a tiny bit for the construction of a national theatre?

    I mean for f***’s sake.

    • The basic mistake, in my view, of Lawrence Gonzi was to decide on the brief given to Piano without subjecting the brief to public consultation. The end result is the current situation. The discussion is not focusing on the Piano proposals but on whether his instructions (the brief) are acceptable on not.

      Raphael, in my view there is no dogma involved in whether to reconstruct or not the former Opera House. There are valid reasons for justifyng both the reconstruction and the non-reconstruction. The Piano proposal for the use of the ruins to create an open-air theatre is reasonable. But, I concede that it is not the only solution.

  2. Carmel: if you feel the brief was flawed – and I agree 100% that it was – then why is AD not pointing this out in public? Why are you supporting a project which, by your own argument, is based on a flawed premise?

    Actually don;t bother answering. It seems that praising Piano is now a matter of Faith and no longer a matter of Reason. We have created a new religion, whereby anything Piano does has to be lauded to the heavens, on pain of cultural excommunication. And yet, his designs for the theatre are poor by any standard. He merely slapped up a few stage props to embellish what was already there. This is not a new theatre. It is the same theatre we already had, and which has been in use for years… only “Piano-fied” with a few perspex slabs.

    I think you will also find that the rerouting of traffic is slightly more problematic than you described above. Are you aware that cars will now be directed UP Old bakery Street? What about the extra pollution, as diesel cars struggle up what must be one the steepest hills in Europe?
    And what about the bus terminus? Previous designs, including the one by Richard England in the 1990s, envisaged the relocation of this dangerous eyesore, and the re-excavation of the original conterscarp. Gonzi’s brief on the other hand overlooks the entire area. Why? Because they’re scared the bus drivers would go on the rampage again?

    Honestly I can;t understand why AD has not drawn public attention to these and other flaws. Very disappointing.

    • I did point out in public the flaws in the drawing up of the brief during an interview for Bondi+ when the announcement of the Piano appointment was made. But nobody took it up. Probably at that stage no one was interested. It is a point ignored even at this stage !

      The points you mention about additional exhaust from traffic directed towards the Hastings area is correct for the reasons you point out.

      In the article reproduced in this blog I limit myself to the positive opportunity for keeping traffic out which opportunity is most probably unplanned !

      Why support the project ? The end result is reasonable even though it lacked consultation at the pre-brief stage.

  3. Carmel, the real symbolic message imparted by Piano’s designs is that culture and theatre are now a “thing of the past” in Malta. They are no longer important, other than as a collective cultural memory. As a leading local architect points out, Piano’s is a “glorification of the memory of a theatre”… as opposed to an actual theatre, which is after all what so many of us wanted.

    Oh well. Very soon the countryside will also be a cultural memory. I’d like to think that AD will defend at least that a little bit harder than it has defended culture and theatre, that’s all.

    • Your comment Raphael is unfair.

      You cannot compare the two issues.

      AD’s defense of the countryside is on record.

      The arguments in favour or against the reconstruction of the Royal Opera House are something else. There is nothing in place accept the ruins. Piano’s proposal to use the ruins as the basis for the open-air cultural venue is the closest possible one can reasonably get.

      I respect the opinion of those in favour of a reconstruction but I do not agree with the reconstruction of the Royal Opera House. I think that the reasons brought forward by Piano are ample justification.

  4. My comment might be unfair, but it is nothing compared to the gross injustice of how an entire 70-year debate – which was always about building a theatre – was suddenly derailed by one man’s obsession to build something by which his otherwise unmemorable stint as PM will be remembered.

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