Metropolis design ‘plagiarised’, court cancels €1.5 million claim

Metropolis developers win revocation of €1.5 million special privilege brought by Dutch architects who won original design contest

Left: the original design for the Metropolis in Gżira, and right, the Herzog design for Beirut Terraces
Left: the original design for the Metropolis in Gżira, and right, the Herzog design for Beirut Terraces

The gaping hole on Testaferrata Street in Gżira where one of the island’s tallest high-rise buildings was slated to be constructed, was held up over worries that its architectural plans had been partly plagiarised.

The allegation was made in a court case filed by Metropolis Developments, owned by the Libyan entrepreneur Galal Ibrahim Husni Bey, against the Dutch firm Erick van Egeraat Beheer BV.

The firm however claimed its plans for the 33-storey high-rise had to be paid for, nothing short of €1.54 million for the vision it presented in a design competition which it had won.

The court however found that despite having won this design contest, no agreement was ever signed between the two parties on the acceptance of the plans.

Erick van Egeraat had originally secured a court order to safeguard his rights in 2017, after negotiations broke down on the prospective plans with Metropolis. According to the site’s owners, even though the jury had selected Van Egeraat’s work for the Metropolis Skygardens project, it had pointed out elements of plagiarism and called on Van Egeraat to address the matter so that no outstanding issue on proprietary rights could surface.

In the ensuing discussions between both sides, Van Egeraat was said to have objected to the accusation of plagiarism and in February 2017, he obtained a court privilege for €1.54 million for architectural consultancy fees. But on 24 May 2017, the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & Demeuron informed Metropolis Developments that its high-rise plans were similar to those of the Beirut Terraces, in Lebanon, and that it would contest the use of the design in court.

After Metropolis sued Van Egeraat to challenge the special privilege, a Maltese court ruled for the revocation of the Dutch architect’s claim.

The permit for the 33-storey Metropolis in Gzira has been extended to 2023 despite expiring in September 2020, thanks to planning rules allowing the extension of permits throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The blanket three-year extension was granted by the Planning Authority in March 2020 because of the stagnation caused by the pandemic, prolonging the life of almost 20,000 development permits.

The excavated hole on some 6,000sq.m of Testaferrata Street remains at a depth of three to four storeys, for a prospective 500-space car park.

Originally, a 2009 permit allowed three towers of 13, 27 and 33 floors over a public piazza connecting Triq Enrico Mizzi and Triq Testaferrata.

The development was to include 191 residential units, a health club, offices, retail outlets, a supermarket, and an underground car park.

The five-year permit was renewed in November 2013, and in November 2014 the PA allowed an increase in parking spaces, as well as increased office space from 4,600sq.m to 7,815sq.m, and to decrease the number of apartments to 110.

The permit also included a helipad on one roof, and a communal outdoor swimming pool and deck area on the roof of another tower.