Interview with Eric Gerardi Architect at Grand Harbour Regeneration Corporation
At the doorstep of Malta’s capital city lie one of Malta’s most famous squares, the Triton Square, named after the iconic Triton monument that lies at its very centre. Indeed,
the fountain is part of the central axis that extends from the glacis outside St James Bastion, its spur and garden in Floriana, through the Mall and Independence monument, Christ the King monument and embellishment, the Triton Fountain, City Gate and Bridge, Republic Street and down to the Spur at St Elmo; the concept on which the Renaissance-Baroque capital was built. The place has for many years served as a bus terminus, and a meeting point for many with its characteristic kiosks on its perimeter. As part of the Valletta regeneration, the square underwent a total overhaul, where the chaotic and dangerous bus terminus has been transformed into a fully pedestrianized open space befitting the entrance to the capital city, Valletta. The design also comprised the area known as Ta’ Biskuttin and the full restoration of the iconic Triton fountain to its former splendour. Perit Eric Gerardi, design architect of the Triton Square project, shared with us the various stages of the project, the challenges they came across and other projects the Grand Harbour Regeneration Corporation is working on.
What major aesthetic changes did the Triton Square project involve?
Grand Harbour Regeneration Corporation (GHRC), was tasked with the pedestrianization of the square and reorganization of all services operating within, drastically altering how the space looked and operated. Previously, one had to navigate through a chaotic circular
passage flanked by kiosks and buses. There was no sense of the space with no site lines to any of the bastions. The new layout maximizes how much openness one can perceive from any location in the piazza. This benefit of this is twofold. A greater sense of space, monumentality and historical context is achieved. Having no blind spots creates a sense of safety and reduces the risk of crime. Kiosks and transport services surround the periphery of the square but leave a hardstone clad space open for the general public.
In what way does the current Triton Square give true justice to the entrance of our glorious capital city?
Triton Square was designed with three objectives in mind. Firstly its aesthetic approach and materials used had to complement both the surrounding historical context, and Renzo Piano’s Building Workshop city gate project. Secondly, a lot of thought was put into the
experience of walking from Floriana through the piazza and into Valletta. Today you can approach Valletta linearly, through the main axis intersecting Kristu Re Monument, the main staircase and Triton Fountain, or angularly through the tree-lined avenues flanking
the square. Historically the general public would have to take a similar angular passage through bastion walls to get to the main bridge. Archaeological pits show remnants of these demolished fortifications which have informed margin patterns and slope geometry of the
square. GHRC also wanted the space to be an attraction on its own. It was designed to allow for large public events, carnival float access, as well as impromptu social gatherings. Consciously avoiding defensive architecture designs, three types of seating have been installed, successfully attracting different groups of people to rest and socialize for free. The project is proof that through new ideas, hard work and cooperation, a balance between
historical context, societal wellbeing and functionality can be achieved.
The Triton Fountain is certainly the central feature in City Gate Square. What did its restoration involve?
The restoration and upgrading of the fountain was handled by a specialized team within the Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure and Capital Projects. GHRC co-ordinated with this team to achieve a successful project. The fountain was extensively damaged due to mishaps, past repairs and errors during the initial casting process. Apap’s tritons comprised of cast bronze segments which were then welded together. Each triton was disassembled, into two pieces at an original welding joint, before being shipped to a Florentine foundry
to be restored. A major aspect of the Triton Fountain upgrade that is overlooked by the general public is the installation of a new high-tech water system. Replacing
the previous public toilets, a large plant room consisting of ten water pumps, water filters a control systems was built. The system automates and monitors the operation of the water treatment plant and of the waster features in conjunction with the architectural lighting.
What were the major challenges you came across during the works on Triton Square?
GHRC could not shut down or block off the square until work was completed. The transition between the old and new design was critical as the bus service, taxis, horse carriages, ‘Hop-On Hop-Off ’ and services to third parties had to still operate. This coordination could only be done with constant communication with all involved entities.
Underlying archaeology also proved a challenge. GHRC studied historical plans, photos, dug exploratory pits but still there was no certainty what could be uncovered during excavation. Archaeologist supervised all excavations and recorded all findings. Sometimes these findings clashed with our proposal causing urgent redesigns of services and sometimes layout of the proposed square. GHRC managed to incorporate these findings while maintaining the clean slope geometry and wheelchair accessibility of the square.
The project also included the planting of indigenous trees around the square. What other greenery does the renovated Triton Square feature?
Globally water scarcity will be a concern. We did not want to plant fifty new holm oak trees without tackling the water they would require to sustain them. Twenty underground reservoirs were purposefully built to harvest rainwater from the 10,000 meters squared piazza. In total, these reservoirs hold around 1,000 cubic metres of water, with an overflow to the reservoirs in the ditch which in turn will serve the needs of Ġnien Lapparelli.
In major structural developments were made to Biskuttin area and in what way is it now better connected to the Triton Square?
The Biskuttin area previously suffered from being surrounded on all four sides by roads. Apart from a few benches, one had to squeeze between double parked vehicles to visit Antonio Sciortino’s Kristu Re monument. It was nothing more than a glorified roundabout. GHRC realized that for Biskuttin to function as a pedestrianized area it had to be an integral part of the general public’s experience of entering Valletta. Only through several design options and constant collaboration with third parties, especially the Malta Public Transport Services, could the road system be redesigned to allow for the Biskuttin to be connect to the rest of the piazza. In fact, from the 20,000 metres squared footprint of the project, half consisted of the paved piazza while the rest consisted of road and bus terminus redesign. Today’s design acts as a drop off point for the bus service and is functioning as a stronger link between Valletta and the Mall in Floriana. We are pleased to see the general public is choosing to sit and use Biskuttin garden nowadays.
What other major projects is GHRC currently working on?
GHRC has just completed and is soon opening the Valetta landfront ditch project, which will be known as Gnien Laparelli. It has been entrusted with the ERDF funded regeneration project of Valletta Marsamxett Area, where it is aiding in the renovation of Historic
buildings social housing, public open spaces and seafront area. GHRC’s work also reaches outside Valletta with projects such as the regeneration of Kalkara waterfront, Floriana Mall garden and works on Senglea’s Entrance gate and belvedere.
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