A recent reimagining of the traditional Maltese bus in the 21st Century caught the Maltese public by storm. VIDA meets with the brain behind the project, Anglo-Maltese architect Jonathan Mizzi.
Nostalgia can be a really powerful emotion; one which transcends language and movement, but nevertheless can be easily. As soon as I gained entrance inside an old, bright-orange bus, and sat down on the left-side of the driver’s seat, I couldn’t but help think back of the old days. A time where I had to walk the entire road from Junior College to Blata l-Bajda, in order to catch the hourly bus back home, which entailed either spending an entire voyage hanging on for dear life to a seat, or else burning my shin with the red-hot gearbox mechanism, because there was nowhere else I could move.
GOOD TIMES INDEED
And for this sudden memory rush, I only had one person to thank. Maltese-British architect and designer Jonathan Mizzi’s recent project, a re-imagining of the traditional Maltese bus as a modern electric fleet, caught the imagination of many. What many might have initially thought as a no-brainer (combining the colourful, yet clunky and inefficient old buses, with the more punctual but bland aesthetic of today), in reality became an immediate hit, with support for the project going so far up as the Ministry for Transport.
We met during the MRO Technology Expo, which was held in the MFCC Ta’ Qali in the beginning of May. While exhibiting Mizzi’s innovative designs, the event’s organisers couldn’t help but exhibit, in all of its glory, one of the remaining buses of old, which no less than seven years ago, used to roam around our Maltese streets.
Mizzi explained that the idea behind the designs was actually inspired by his experience in living in London: “The project came to mind right after the old buses were decommissioned here in Malta. As I also lived in London, I saw what they did with their own version of the classic public transportation system: The red, double-decker bus. The UK recognised what they lost when it came to decommissioning their old fleet, so they decided to create a modern concept of their old buses.”
“Fast forward several months, and I was stuck in traffic behind one of those Boris Johnson bendy-buses in Malta: I spent about half an hour looking at this ugly, blue boxy
derrière, and it suddenly hit me. If London managed to do it with their double-decker concept, why not Malta?”
The Anglo-Maltese architect explained how his multi-disciplinary studio, who had previously done numerous projects which include robots and other non-conventional design projects, soon embarked on this idea and started developing from the ground up. “It took seven years to finalise this idea. Initially, we were aiming for a fleet of hybrid-vehicles, but eventually, technology has caught up so much, that a completely electric fleet of cars became more and more tangible.”
When asked about the biggest challenge that he faced, Mizzi explained how incorporating a multitude of different designs, from hundreds of different buses, into a singular vision was obviously a big ask: “At some point in time, there were hundreds of different unique buses, each with their own saints, names, decorations etc. Eventually, we noticed a number of common genetic features, including the hooded visor, a big smiling front grill, religious references, as well as the two hooded front lamps, which to me look a lot like Pixar characters being brought to life.”
“The beauty of the art-deco aesthetic of these buses was that it was futuristic for its time; the execution of their aesthetic template was always dynamic. At the same time, we wanted to include modern features, including low-ramp accessibility, an efficient powertrain, air-conditioning etc.” Mizzi argues that this project can be implemented gradually, in a step-by-step manner. “There’s the possibility that EU funding can be sought, both thanks to the invaluable cultural legacy which is intrinsically linked with these buses, as well as as way for Malta to ensure it reaches its emission targets. The technology is here: China, Paris and London are all striving towards a broader use of electric vehicles within their public transportation system.”
“For me, adding all this together, going after this project should be a no-brainer. We hope that this project would be a symbol of how Malta as a nation, we can truly progress, while simultaneously remaining true to our roots and traditions. Who knows? Eventually this fleet may also be completely autonomous.”
In his concluding note, Mizzi thanked a large number of entities whose support made the project possible. “Mostly though, it was the overwhelming public appreciation for this project which hit home. The public reaction showed, not only to us but to everyone in general, what these buses mean for the local community, as well as their yearning for a public transport system which can truly bring to light our country’s identity.”
© 2019 – VIDA Magazine