The Barrakka Lift
The Barakka Lift project derives its strength from the rigour necessary to resolve the dichotomy between the strong historic nature of the site context and the demands for better access placed upon it by economic and commercial considerations. The commission envisaged the development of a structure that could transport large numbers of visitors and residents from the water’s edge of the harbour, over the powerful landward enceinte of fortifications and into the heart of the city. This, clearly, is bound to leave a significant visual impact on this sensitive heritage site. The force of the intervention was made all the more acute since no room was left for compromise on the transport engineering aspect which required that the expected demand of passenger traffic be addressed in its entirety. The new lift structure will be located on the edge of Malta’s fortified capital city of Valletta (at the foot of the bastion of St Peter and St Paul which was rehabilitated in the seventeenth century when the danger of an Ottoman invasion had all but disappeared) carrying passengers up to the Barrakka Gardens with their stunning views of the Grand Harbour. On this very site, the Royal Engineers had erected in the early years of the twentieth century, during Valletta’s heyday as a trading port, a steel lift structure, one of the several projects that aimed at connecting the harbour landing place outside the walls with the centre of the city. The lift was abandoned in the 1970s and demolished in the 1980s. Today, the City’s walls, once maintained to keep enemy ships at bay, are under conservation order and, paradoxically, are one of the attractions that draw cruise liner ships on Mediterranean cruise routes, carrying thousands of tourists every day to the city. In spite of the changes that have taken root in the life of Valletta, the connection between harbour and city today carries a similar meaning to that which it had in the past. The recent restoration of waterside warehouses into a development of restaurants and cafes, retail outlets and galleries, as well as the insertion of a cruise ship terminal, has, in the same spirit of past connection projects, prompted a re-activation of the need of a lift carrying cruise passengers into the city. The renewed connection was not for one, but three lifts; a much larger footprint and a stronger vertical statement within the skyline of the historic harbour than the original structure. Yet rather than constraining the footprint at all costs, the design was developed by pulling the three lifts apart to create a tripod with its inherent structural stiffness, and shaping a cavity where a staircase could be threaded in between. Three positions also imply three views, and three ways to explore the impressive context that unravels itself whilst travelling up or down. The plan was studied further to integrate geometric qualities that echo the angularity of the bastion walls. The undulating edges help modulate light as it hits the structure. The decision to wrap the structure in a mesh is a continuation of the idea of transforming pragmatic considerations into aesthetic benefits: the mesh masks the actual lift carriages, recalls the image of the original cage lifts, and provides shade and protection to passengers as they travel between the city of Valletta and the Mediterranean Sea.


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