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Joseph Spiteri

Raymond Vassallo writes:

Architect Joseph Spiteri was a passionate romantic at heart. He was an ardent student of traditional architectural styles but also of their evolution into contemporary forms. His flair for architecture was quickly recognised.

In a short period, he acquired a high reputation as designer par excellence in the Department of Public Works. He was also ap­pointed design lecturer and tutor within the Architecture faculty at the Royal University of Malta.

Joe combined competence with humility, passion for architecture with patience as a teacher. I was fortunate to have received invaluable tuition from him, as did so many hundreds of architectural graduates who came after me.

He was born at a time when a completely new architectural style, the so-called International Style found expression in the works of Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. World War II served to delay the evolution of that style for a whole decade, until the mid-1940s, by which time the International Style entered full blossom.

This coincided with Joe’s university years as an architecture undergraduate. Building construction in Malta still followed a classical architectural grammar that had been adopted by the Knights Hospitallers from the 16th to the 18th centuries and that was continued during the British Colonial period, throughout the 19th century and past the turn of the 20th.

The classical styles were part and parcel of Joe’s architectural education. Nevertheless, he quickly ventured into the brave new world the International Style was creating in Europe and America.

During his long tenure in the Department of Public Works, Joe applied the new style to the designs of many public buildings erected towards the 1960s and after, including schools and factories. He was also responsible for some private buildings that have now acquired an iconic status as worthy local examples of that style.

Joe must be considered as one of Malta’s chief exponents of the International Style. This distinction enhanced his eclectic performance, encompassing the traditional styles that preceded his brave new world.

His design for the Carmelite church in Balluta is a masterpiece of the Gothic revivalist style. The Gothic style, in itself, is epitomised by a vertical thrust symbolising a reaching out towards the heavens. It may be significant that Joe’s latter-day work in Balluta crowns his corp d’oevres with a spiritual quest.

Joe was also acknowledged as a virtuoso in architectural draughts­manship. One cannot help noticing that this part of his DNA appears to have been transmitted to his son Stephen, who is a world authority on military architecture and who has authored and illustrated several books on the subject.

Joe will be missed by many.

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