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Renzo Piano due in Malta next month

Renzo Piano in front of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, one of his designs.

Renzo Piano in front of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, one of his designs.

Renzo Piano should be in Malta early next month on a reconnaissance visit to Valletta, the entrance to which the government has commissioned the world-renowned Italian architect to design.

It is the first time that Mr Piano will be coming to Malta since it was announced in December that he was back in business to take on the €80 million project that incorporates the rebuilding of City Gate and the Opera House ruins.

It is his third official visit since his relationship with Malta started some two decades ago while his associates have already been on a preliminary familiarisation trip. The government has confirmed the visit but not the date.

Mr Piano will be taking a look at the site, studying the context and understanding the situation, and picking up the brief, sources said.

Entrusted with the upgrading of the area, which is crying out for regeneration, the star architect is behind some of the most avant-garde contemporary architectural structures, including Parisian landmark Centre Georges Pompidou and Berlin's Potsdamer Platz.

His name, however, had been synonymous with controversy locally. He had attracted strong objection when he presented his guidelines for a Valletta master plan, with conceptual designs for Freedom Square, the old Opera House and City Gate, in the late 1980s.

Even though the Cabinet had approved his project in 1990, it was dropped due to growing criticism. By 1992, it had completely fizzled out.

Today, however, the scenario has changed and, though the debate about the project is hot, it revolves around the government's decision to turn the Opera House site into Parliament, instead of a new opera house, or at least a building that is used for culture and the arts.

Mr Piano recently won the prestigious 2008 Sonning Prize, awarded yearly for "commendable work that befits European culture". A Goodwill Ambassador of Unesco for Architecture, his restoration campaign of historical sites includes the ancient city of Rhodes and Genoa's historical centre.

His portfolio also includes the New York Times building, Rome's Parco della Musica Auditorium, Osaka's state-of-the-art Kansai International Airport and the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, which not only demonstrates his aesthetic and technical artistry but also emphasises green design, having won a silver-level Holcim Award for Sustainable Construction.

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