From its beginnings as a military barrack, followed by its transformation into a Colonial residence, various government ministries and embassies, the House of Four Winds has always been associated with great importance, not as much for its architecture as for its unique vantage point high above Malta's stunning Marsamxett Harbour.
At the culmination of Windmill Street in Valletta, past Hastings Garden perched on the edge of St. Michael’s Bastion sat the House of Four Winds, a building which, following a long and colourful history, was transferred to Bank of Valletta in 2010.
The former building on the site of the House of Four Winds in Malta appeared to have grown sporadically, in a disorganised manner, having no particular style or any architectural value. A stern solid stone boundary wall enclosed it, giving its back to the architecturally rich city. Furthermore, the whole length of its façade was built directly on the bastion wall, with a section of the bastion having been demolished in order to accommodate a balcony. This was more of a collection of extensions rather than a formal and coherentbuilding, having developed dramatically over the course of two hundred years. Although various layout options were proposed which necessitated internal alterations to accommodate new functions such as a boardroom, meeting rooms and various offices, the architects felt that none of these layouts did justice to such a prestigious use as the Bank of Valletta Chairman’s Office. Bearing in mind the substantial amount that would be spent on fitting out, the architects at DeMicoli & Associates decided that it was not worth keeping the building shell.
These observations encouraged the architects to concede to the fact that the building they were dealing with was not suitable for its new use. They began to consider the possibility of abandoning the actual building to focus their efforts instead on doing justice to a site shrouded in romanticism and memory. Total demolition of the site was advised.
With the aspirations for the site having changed, new architectural and design challenges began to emerge. Various questions began to be raised by the architects, such as: how much of the site is of historical value to Malta? Which part of it was built first, and was there actually any value at all in any part of the structure? These inquires were to prompt an intensive research project through the careful and almost microscopic analysis of several plans, photographs and paintings which would lead to a full understanding of the developments that took place on the site over time. The story of the House of Four Winds in Malta thus began to slowly emerge not only from an architectural point of view, but also from an historical and sociological one.
The findings of this research would contribute in no small way towards the shaping of a new building which although contemporary in design echoes its magnificent surroundings in one of Malta's finest locations which is the envy of all.
A completely new design was required and the main intention was to integrate the new building naturally into its historical surroundings and to re-orient it towards the City. The building was carefully crafted in terms of scale, and its insertion into the context. A new public piazza was introduced, the focal point of which is Ponsomby’s Monument, now released from its former sad location behind a stone wall, and integrated from an urban design point of view, into its surroundings. At the heart of this stands the new building, nestled within a garden which merges seamlessly into neighbouring Hastings Garden.
A main feature of the architectural design is that the new building steps back several meters from the bastions, as all extensions were carefully removed and any damage repaired. This clever intervention has opened up views for visitors to St. Michael’s Bastion, which were previously hidden by the former building.
A materials palette was used which reflects those characteristically found in Valletta, such as hardstone and timber, in a completely innovative way. Slabs of golden-coloured hardstone, hewn from a local quarry, are suspended from stainless steel framework fixed to the concrete brick walls, behind which are fixed panels of insulation material. The massing was devised such that the new building appears as a composition of stone-clad volumes when viewed from a distance, echoing the typical Maltese buildings found in Valletta.
Timber louvered canopies hang gracefully above the glazed apertures, shading them from the sun, a tribute to the Maltese timber balconies of the past, the windows of which were also louvered, contrary to today’s version in glass.
The result is a building which gracefully embellishes the bastions and is yet to become an icon of Malta’s Capital City.