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Ravages of the building spree

Where are the pristine pretty bays? Gone. Photos: Chris Sant Fournier

Where are the pristine pretty bays? Gone. Photos: Chris Sant Fournier

Many of us are going through a rather odd syndrome reminiscent to the loss of identity after an accident, a modern phenomenon that I would describe as: ‘homesickness at home’.

Ours is an accident caused by a building boom. It is a sickness by which rampant projects gradually undermine the foundations of a community until gradually we start waking up and seeing our towns drifting away and feeling a surge of homesickness.

Suddenly, like strangers in a foreign land, we all ask ourselves: “Where is the farmhouse? Gone. What is left of the core of the old village? Gone. Where are the squares of the town for people to gather? Gone. Where are the pristine pretty bays? Gone.”

We may also query the absence of the song of birds that hunters have succeeded in obliterating.

These are the same questions asked by all those rooted to a sense of belong­ing when they see the elements of their community disintegrating.

Most of the building projects that we see are conceived without relation to place or function in the community. They are rapidly drawn out and sold on plan before a permit exists. The idea of a functioning community as a standard by which to measure these projects does not even arise.

Finally, we ask: “Does the community choose the project, or does the project dictate to the community? Do we build out of necessity or to satisfy speculation?”

In architecture, there is a famous formula that says ‘form follows function’: the form of the building serves to enhance and perfect the purpose for which it was con­structed. It adds rather than sub­tracts. Therefore, whatever is added to or built in the town should enhance the functioning of the town. Or, as Plato once put it: “The beautiful is the useful and the ugly the shameful”. Of the shameful we are seeing an abundance.

I doubt whether we ever had a sense for beauty when I consider that our priceless heritage was not built by the Maltese; the heritage of neolithic temples, the heritage of the Knights of St John, and so on. Driving into Valletta via Pietà I look on my right and I am filled with awe by the fortress walls of Valletta and I then gaze on my left to watch the modern ghetto of Tigné Point, and my heart weeps.

We have lost the sense of beauty, if there ever was one. Many are immune to what is beautiful, obli­vious to any aesthetics. A huge chunk of the Maltese community has turned into a community of philistines with money and greed their only concern. All this talk and promotion of culture is a huge lie. It is all about imitating and simulating what takes place elsewhere to be on a par with others, but most of it is skin deep. We survive on simulation nowa­days, another reason why the sense of belonging is lost.

A huge chunk of the Maltese community has turned into a community of philistines with money and greed their only concern

In the political realm, on the other hand, the shameful and ugly have become interchange­able with the useful and beau­ti­ful; form follows money rather than function. The sole rationale of our projects is the market rationale of profitability.

Even a cursory examination of these projects reveals that they do not come close to fitting or functioning in their immediate environment; nor do any planning documents even contemplate their existence. The rules to protect the Outside Development Zone areas have been changed to encourage further speculation or ravaging. Yet, in the world of politics, the envi­ronment and community do not seem to matter because dys­function can always be mitigated with money.

Nevertheless, one cannot help but question whether we can build the foundation of a com­munity on the awkward pairing of dys­function and mitigation. Architecture has an immense influence on entire societies. We ignore the fact that bad archi­tecture produces bad communities. I would also add that useless architecture is an abuse of the environment.

Can we sustain a community by injecting placeless projects con­nected by placeless roads? Can we reach the beautiful by building the ugly? Can we ever get to the true by mitigating the false? Homesickness at home; the end of living and the beginning of survival.

Most of the present economic success that many praise is the result of the building industry spree. The savage building spree is rapidly devastating the limited perimeter of land (316 square kilometres) that we have for survival. It is being done metho­dically with one concern, to create a temporary economic success for the benefit of those in power, a political power that should start dwindling after 10 years, hence those in power have already announc­ed that they will retreat to avoid the repercussions.

Those in power are not intelli­gent but sly, because these are the manoeuvres of cunning people who care about personal gain. These are the strategies of shrewd people who know how to manipulate by enticing people to choose profit rather than respon­sibility. They are indifferent to the consequences.

Where are the eco­nomists to speak of the economic conse­quences of the present tem­­po­rary success? One does not have to be a genius to conclude that if any administration opens all doors for the building industry an enor­mous business is going to be generated that no one refuses.

However, one cannot ignore the consequences of such an evil strategy because we will still be around in a few years’ time, and so will our sons and daughters. When I look around in my area and observe the building contractors arriving in their fat, costly Porches or BMWs to inspect their glorious projects, I ask myself how could we be swapping our precious land to entertain these speculators?

I keep asking myself who are those fools to believe that our tourism industry is infallible and guaranteed? When many of the conflicts on the Mediterranean shores settle down, tourists would have a vast choice of places to visit. They will no longer choose to visit Paceville, the high-rises of Sliema shores, the ghettos of Buġibba, the shorelines choked with endless rows of buildings and congested streets. Neither will they miss our skyline of cranes and noise. They will not miss the messy infra­structure of our roads and the shameful pavements in our busy touristic areas.

We are being governed by soul­less, irresponsible and incom­petent politicians.

With apologies to all those who still conserve a soul.

Luciano Micallef is a well-established Maltese artist. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, published books on his art and has exhibited in private museums and galleries in Europe, Asia, the US and Australia. He has his own private gallery.

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