Balluta Buildings set for sensitive restoration

Balluta Buildings is set to get a sensitive restoration that will respect the natural ageing of the building to remove a dark crust layer

Balluta Buildings, one of the most iconic buildings in Malta, is set to get a sensitive restoration that will respect the natural ageing of the building to remove a dark crust layer which has accumulated beneath cornices and other decorative elements of this majestic building.

The restoration works are foreseen in a planning application submitted by the Marquis Marcus Marshall’s The Vintage Company, which envisages the subdivision of some of the apartments to ensure these meet the requirements of contemporary living.

The Superintendence for Cultural Heritage and the Planning Directorate have endorsed the works led by architect Ray Demicoli.

The application foresees works on 10 of the 20 apartments in Balluta Buildings and therefore does not cover the building in its entirety. Some of the other apartments have also submitted applications through the government’s “Irrestawa Darek” scheme.

To avoid a stark contrast with other parts of the building not covered by the application, and to ensure homogeneity, only the necessary minimal cleaning will be done.

The cleaning exercise is to restore the face of the stone and remove all accumulation of pollutants, while retaining “the patina of time-including that created by lichens- which is not causing harm to the substrate”.

Moreover the restoration will be carried out using hand-held tools while power tools will be avoided.

Areas marred by black crust will be cleaned using the dry brush method, while pigeon droppings will be cleaned by hand using appropriate protective gear and tools. Simple dry-bristle knife blades and spatulas will remove moss without damaging or abrading the surface.

The restoration will also address dangerous structures such as broken stone
details. Every effort shall be made to retain as much as possible of the original masonry structure.

All metal fixtures (bolts, nails, pipes, cables, etc.) affixed on the walls which are of no historical significance, and which are causing damage due to the expansion of the rusting iron, will be removed in a way that does not cause further damage.

Due to the degradation of many of the existing apertures, these will have to be replaced with timber replicas. These will replicate the slender proportion of the apertures to ensure that the appearance of the building is not compromised.

The original apertures in Balluta Buildings consisted of single glazed windows which were mechanically controlled from inside and designed in a way that rainwater is allowed to enter and is drained through the windowsill. But such workmanship is hard to replicate.

Moreover due to a lack of maintenance and the abandonment of a number of apartments, many of these apertures need to be replaced. In some areas, shutters have already been removed and apertures have been replaced with chunky alternatives that do not respect the original proportion of the building.

The interventions proposed to the interior of the building are minimal and will mainly consist in changes of partition walls and apertures similar to what was approved in previous permits through which subdivisions were approved.

Restoring a piece of history

Completed in 1928 and built on the gardens in the vicinity of the Old College, Balluta Buildings is considered as one of the finest examples of Art Nouveau architecture in Malta. The project was commissioned by Marquis John Scicluna and designed by architect Giuseppe Psaila. It now enjoys the highest level of protection as a Grade 1 monument. But over the years, the building, whose tenants benefitted from the rent control regime, suffered deterioration.

The main façade of the building consists of a massive block of flats subdivided in three blocks. The words Balluta Buildings and AD MCMXXVIII decorate the architrave below the central pediments of each vertical structure, which protrudes from the rest of the building. The windows of the two upper levels are grouped in pairs and joined by floral decorated architrave and are framed by decorative surrounds; those on the lower levels are further enhanced by a decorative balustrade wall. The three main blocks are joined together by a plain façade with two upper floors, and verandas on the lower floors.