St Julian’s: Richard England’s modernist bank faces demolition for 10-storey hotel

Bank sold by HSBC in 2019 now earmarked for 10-storey hotel

Conservationists are opposing plans to knock down the former HSBC branch in St Julian’s, considered a landmark in modernist architecture carrying the signature of eminent architect Richard England.

Located in St George’s Road, corner with Triq il-Qaliet, the building has a footprint of 250 square metres in a prime location overlooking Spinola Palace and Gardens, just one minute’s walk from Spinola Bay and Portomaso Marina.

The application for the 67-suite hotel is by realtor Grahame Salt’s Berkeley Investments, with the new design by architect Ray Demicoli. No part of the present building will be retained.

This building was one of a number of former Mid Med Bank branches designed by Richard England in the 1970s.

Heritage activist and architect Edward Said is objecting to the complete demolition of the modernist building and is calling for the integration of the building’s exterior into the new development project. The St Julian’s branch was one of several, each endowed with “an architectural identity conceived in reflection of the locality’s size and site as well as its function.”

While these branches were all designed in “an international modernist aesthetic”, they also included regionalist nuances harking to the Maltese vernacular, and fine paintings and sculptures by eminent artists of the time were often included in the interior fabric of these branches. “All of this was done in a well-mannered, business-like architecture, honest to its original use,” Said said.

Said believes these buildings should be considered as urban landmarks, not unlike the cinemas of the 1950s. Whilst some of the branches have been demolished or modified unrecognisably, a few branches like the one in St Julian’s, Msida and St Paul’s Bay “certainly merit respectable preservation”, having been designed by “an internationally acclaimed Maltese architect.”

“Surely the present architects can sensitively integrate the exterior of the present building in their proposal,” he said.

And in its first reaction to the proposed plans the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage has also called for the integration of the façade in the proposed hotel development while also expressing concern on the impact of the development on Palazzo Spinola.

The Superintendence also also called for a reduction in the overall height of the building, noting that the considerable increase as currently proposed will have an “unacceptable impact” on the scheduled Palazzo and the UCA to the rear of the site and has asked for photomontages indicating the impact on both Palazzo Spinola and the UCA.

Din l-Art Helwa is also objecting to the development noting that the existing building’s facade is indicative of regional modernism “through its adaptation to the Maltese urbanscape” and thus part of the architectural history of the Maltese islands. 

The HSBC branch in St Julian’s was put up for sale in 2019, after the bank announced its intention to close down eight branches by the end of the year. The state-owned Mid Med bank was sold with all its branches to HSBC for Lm80 million – or €185 million – in the 1999.