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16th century warehouse restorers win ‘Oscar’ of architectural world

The winning restoration in Valletta.

The winning restoration in Valletta.

The conversion of the dilapidated Biagio Steps in Valletta won its restorers the most prestigious architectural heritage award in a ceremony deemed as the ‘Oscars’ of Maltese architecture.

The project, called Fortress Builders, the work of architect Norbert Gatt, won the 2012 Din l-Art Ħelwa Silver Medal Award on Friday.

Apart from the restoration of the 16th century warehouse, the project also included the installation of a lift giving people access from St Mark’s Street to Melita Street.

The project breathed “new life in this corner of the city”, said competition chairman Maria Grazia Cassar when Tabitha Dreyfus, on behalf of the restoration directorate, picked up the award.

A record 10 projects were submitted this year.

DLĦ president Simone Mizzi praised “the fine crop of laureates”, describing the awards as the “Oscars” for architectural heritage in Malta.

“There is really one winner and that is Malta: thank you for taking up our battle to save our heritage,” she said.

Culture Minister Mario de Marco reflected on the lack of awareness in the past to appreciate architectural heritage: “We have lost so much in these years and committed many mistakes, some in the name of progress, some in the name of I don’t know what. Sometimes we went for the cheapest alternatives without realising the consequences.”

He praised DLĦ for leading the way in encouraging, warning and showing us what the way forward should be. “We have a primary duty to give primary importance to these buildings,” he stressed.

And the winners were:

• The rehabilitation of a dilapidated building in Siġġiewi into a contemporary home.

• The refit of the former Institute of Health Care premises as the new Malta Enterprise Offices in Guardamangia.

• The rehabilitation of Palazzo Vittoriosa into a modern home.

• The restoration of the villa which houses the Siġġiewi local council.

• Restoration of the Malta at War Museum by Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna.

• Conservation of the medieval chapel of Santa Ċeċilia in Għajnsielem by Wirt Għawdex.

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