The President of Malta

Closing speech by His Excellency George Vella, President of Malta, on the occasion of the Malta Architecture and Spatial Planning Awards 2020

Honourable Minister for the Environment, Climate Change & Planning [Aaron Farrugia],

Mr Martin Saliba, Chairperson of the Executive Council, Perit Vincent Cassar, Chairperson of the Planning Board, Distinguished Guests,

I must begin by congratulating Professor Alex Torpiano for the very well- deserved award in recognition of outstanding achievements through his services related to architecture and spatial planning, reflected in the many years of work related to the built environment, and his vast contribution to research, education, theory and practice of architecture.

I have also to congratulate all the winners in the ten categories considered in these awards, as well as all those that came in for a commendation. I have also to thank all those who submitted their projects for adjudication, and all the members of the jury for this edition of the Malta Architecture and Spatial Planning Awards, and the members that assisted them in coming to their decisions.

Sifting through and appraising the submitted projects, in the different categories, must have been quite a task, considering that these awards were meant to highlight projects that stood out, to be given due recognition, and encourage emerging and established architects and designers who have shown vision, and commitment to high environmental standards in their projects.

The ten categories between them cover various aspects of development, including rehabilitation and conservation of existing buildings, urban design and planning, creation and enhancement of public spaces, the interior architecture both for residential projects as well as for commercial projects, and projects for hospitality, tourism accommodation, and the leisure industry. Other categories were those looking for innovative elements of environmental sustainability, and that for recognising emerging young architects.

In deciding on these awards the jury were looking for form, function, innovation, quality and sustainability.

In a tight environment like the one we live in, it is not enough for a project to achieve the highest of environmental, spacial, and sustainability standards, when considered on its own. Buildings and built up projects have to fit in the environment, be it fabric, design, height, streetscape, skyline, and environmental/social impact on the surroundings. It has to fit in the texture and ambiance, respecting carrying capacity, and balance between the built up footprint and the available green spaces.

This philosophy was behind The Strategic Plan for Environment and Development known as SPED launched in 2015. This was supposed to be Malta’s roadmap towards the future. The SPED covers much more than just the built up environment. However it defines Malta’s urban areas as pollution free, safe places

to live and work in, while its rural parts are green lungs that shall sustain farming and provide an escape from urban life.

Enough time has passed for us to ask whether the SPED has been respected enough, and if need be, assess the impact it has had on planning policies and their implementation. Now is the time for discussing in a constructive way, what changes would we like to see taking place to avoid the repetition or continuation of practices that could have left us short of arriving at the desired optimal levels in our planning policies.

All this, including genuine self criticism, should reflect on the sense of innovation and the undisputed professionalism by which today’s environmentally conscious planners and architects carry out their respective projects.

It is very heartening and very encouraging to be reassured that so many different specializations and talent, could come together to create state-of-the-art buildings and spaces, that do not just follow the legal guidelines by the book, but also inject in their projects responsible consideration for the social, cultural, environmental and historical characteristics of our country.

The state of the environment, be it natural or built, and the care, or lack of, that one gives it, says a lot about a country.

How much more urbanisation do we need to sustain population growth? Is this sprawl being contained in order to maintain a balance between the natural and

built up environment? How are we shaping our living spaces? Are we taking enough care of the nexus between sustainability and improved health?

Events like this one tonight give me hope. If there is enough will from all the stakeholders that determine this delicate balance, we can manage to identify the right formula for the well-being of our people.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been an eye-opener in this regard. Everyone has come to appreciate the importance of having adequate living spaces. At various times during the pandemic, we all had to confine ourselves temporarily in our homes, and limit the time we spent outdoors, besides our behaviour.Our dwellings, no matter their size, turned into offices, playgrounds, gyms and so on.

Vehicle use decreased and we started appreciating more than ever before, walking a few kilometres in our countryside. Some of us were fortunate enough to have a garden at home or a community garden nearby. These spaces provided that little respite needed to ensure the physical and mental well-being for most of us.

Various international institutions have come to increasingly urge the need to go green, including the EU through its European Green Deal project, and the UN through its Sustainable Development Goals. Yet, it is up to every single one of us to live up to such expectations. The success of these goals very much depends

on us. These global goals each have a local component which is up to us to respect and implement..

I truly believe that architects and spatial planners are key players in all of this. You are the agents of change whose duty is to preserve what we have while ensuring that our future generations can look back at our time and thank us for taking the right decisions at the right time.

You play an important role in the legacy that we are to leave behind.

Through inter-disciplinary knowledge and practice, I am confident that you can use design and planning as a tool to improve the well being of society, starting from our country.

I consider your profession as a form of art where the utilitarian aspect meets the artistic, where design has to complement function, and where the end result has to meet the approval of the end user; besides that of each and every one of us. Our country, albeit small in size, has been blessed for millennia, with buildings and structures that after hundreds of years still leave a very good impression on the visitor.

It is our responsibility to uphold this tradition, and should use the latest trends, the latest materials, the latest technologies, and the best of design to enhance the characteristics of our Maltese heritage, and avoid all trends, however modern, that lead us to adopt styles and structures that are anonymous, albeit international,

but do not reflect in any way any particular redeeming Maltese characteristic. You have the key to this formula.

I trust in your professionalism and in your creative talents.

I want to conclude by once again congratulating the Planning Authority for organising this event and providing an opportunity for talent and best practice to be showcased.

Thank you. 17.2.21.

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