Maltese Heritage at Risk Symposium

Start Date & Time: 08/03/2017 - 12:00 am

End Date & Time: 08/03/2017 - 12:00 am

On the evening of Wednesday 8 th March 2017, Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar (FAA) and the History of Art Students Association (HoASA) jointly organized a panel discussion at the Orpheum Theatre, Gzira on Maltese Heritage at Risk. The speakers were Astrid Vella (FAA), who gave the Introduction, ‘Heritage, a National Asset’; Prof. Conrad Thake on ‘Architectural Preservation’; Dr. Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci on ‘Assessment of the Importance given to Modern and Contemporary Art in Malta’; Prof. Andrew Narwold on ‘The Economic Value of Artistic Heritage’; Marcus Binney C.B.E. on ‘Architectural Preservation – the Relevance of the U.K. Experience to Malta’; and lastly Giulia Privitelli (HoASA) on ‘The Neglect of Works of Art in the Maltese Islands’. Andre Pasquale took the chair.

Astrid Vella, in her Introduction, talked about the ongoing applications for developments in Malta and the potential loss to Malta’s heritage through developments, with the destruction of existing buildings to be replaced by construction of high rise buildings, thus affecting the Maltese skyline.

Prof. Conrad Thake talked about the need for architectural preservation of many buildings, historical centres,
and structures now left in a perilous state but which could be restored. Although there remain in Malta, very capable stone masons, the trade is dying and on verge of extinction. Some of the buildings and structures which need to be preserved are listed as follows;

Prof. Andrew Narwold of San Diego University, as an economist with experience in valuing the preservation of historic buildings, spoke about the ‘Economics of Historic and Cultural Preservation’. He said that in a sense the problem for Malta is that it has too many historic and cultural properties and perhaps the costs of re-development outweigh the benefits. He addressed the question, how do we measure costs and benefits?

Do we ask the population to pay? Should we look at how the value of the externalities are reflected

indirectly in other prices (hedonic pricing). On a positive note, Prof. Narwold said that the annual value of tourism in Malta is €2.1 billion contributing to 28% of GDP, and with 51,000 jobs (29% of the total workforce).

Although there are visitors who come to Malta for the cultural heritage, the Planning Authority is denigrating historic sites, and even authorizing planning in restricted zones. Prof. Narwold added that the preservation of historic buildings can add value to all property in the neighbouring area, and that also there is a lot of unused property in Valletta that could be renovated. Organisations have to be innovative and find ways to conserve Maltese heritage and need support, both financial and political.

Marcus Binney has written about baroque architecture in Malta in the British ‘Country Life’ magazine. His talk was about the ‘Relevance of the UK experience of Architectural Preservation to Malta’. In 1975, he said, an association called ‘Save Britain’s Heritage’ was formed and in its publication listed ‘Buildings at Risk’ annually. Marcus was made the point that large old buildings could be converted into units for multiple residential uses. He gave examples of creative re-use; companies like Landmark Trust in Britain have acquired old buildings such as, a lighthouse, pig sty, etc, and converted them into a holiday let. A different type of conversion has been done in the Channel Islands where the Jersey and Alderney fortifications have been made into private apartments.

Talks by Dr. Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci and Giulia Privitelli were read from their prepared texts. Due to sound quality issues with the microphone it was not possible to hear the two Speakers well enough to take notes for this report.

After a brief question and answer session, attendees were treated to sponsored refreshments supplied by ‘Eat Me, I’m famous’ caterers, and Attard & Co. wines and spirits division.

Derek Moss
FAA Member

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