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A Backpackers Retreat With a Luxury Twist- International Project: Valletta, Malta

Part 1 Project 2009
Robert Howarth
University of Huddersfield, UK
My final year project was in Malta, Valletta. The brief was open and whilst food was the concept, this did not need to be a direct relation. However, the end product needed to show development from consideration of the concept.

Resulting from a long and complex thought process, based on feelings and emotions evoked from reflections of the site, as well as the basis of a good business opportunity, I chose St Lazarus Curtain, one of four sites.

The site was used by residents of Valletta’s crammed streets as ‘outside’ space; shanty ‘shacks’ dominated the shoreline 20 m below the fortified wall of the Citadel.

My feelings toward the zeitgeist of the site were deep relaxation and surprise, as it was hidden away from tourists. Also, there were several ways to enter the site – mainly from the northern end - and this, too, affected the position of my scheme.

I chose to create a retreat for both locals and tourists, where both populations could converge and experience the place together (an occurrence rarely practiced). Tourists and locals alike would be led via different routes to ‘discover’ the site, relax and engage with it.

Once within the site spaces in-between the rooms provide areas of privacy for relaxation and enjoyment. Pavilions draped with swaying fabric and washing criss-crossing over the path create subtle movement, making the place seem animated. Levels step down from the Citadel toward the sea.

The ‘Pier Building’ light and airy, clad in glass shaded by solar cell valouvers and timber batons, provides the final link to the sea, culminating in a pier where the journey is continued. The building is the centre point of the site, with direct and indirect passageways toward it, privatising a section of shore line and calming the waters to allow people to swim, utilising existing rails for access in and out of the water.

Throughout the site plunge-pools have been created for cooling purposes, developed from existing natural/ unnatural rock formations and encouraging socialization. Pavilions provide enhanced private areas for relaxation, contemplation and meditation.

Enjoy your stay…

Robert Howarth

The project, a backpacker’s hostel in Valetta, Malta was nominated for its rich and poetic response to a context which was both sensitive and challenging. The proposal develops a complex dialogue with place, and place making. There is a sensuous but appropriate palette of materials rich in colour and texture reflecting the physical landscape of Malta. The concept of the Backpacker is a direct response to the historical evolution of Malta as a place that has been the gateway for many travellers and cultural battles including Romans, Arabs, French and the British. This has meant the cultural development of Malta has been enriched by many ideologies; it seems this mosaic of layered tapestry cascading becomes a metaphor for the steeply sloping west facing site in a series of small spaces celebrating the views across the ocean for the weary traveller in the heat of the Mediterranean sun. The organisation of the unassuming cellular blocks pays homage to the existing typology of the fishermen’s huts responding to the rocky cliff face with narrow meandering pathways like the old walled city of Malta celebrated in a pier like structure where the travellers meet to exchange there dreams.


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