Maritime Trade Centre boosts productivity and saves energy
The Malta Maritime Authority is essential in consolidating the role of the islands as a maritime hub and in the development and organisation of the national maritime economy. As such, the building which houses its offices is important especially because it sets the image of the Authority as a forward looking organisation that has been entrusted with the projection of Malta’s maritime role into the future.
This does not entail a denial of the history of the Harbours that have witnessed, and provided a vital contribution to, the political and economic growth of the islands into nationhood. Quite the contrary, the choice of location of the building in Marsa at the foot of the seaward bastions of Floriana is proof that the Authority is sensitive to its historic context, both physical and economic, testifying to the centuries of maritime trading that have given Malta its commercial backbone.
The construction of Malta Maritime Trade Centre which houses the offices of Transport Malta (including its maritime directorate, the former Maritime Authority), the Grand Harbour Regeneration Corporation plc., and the European Asylum Support Office, amongst other entities, was dictated principally from the ground conditions of the site. The pre-existing bedrock was, over the years, extended to form quays created from the deposit of material and casting of concrete, and the requirement to avoid expensive pile foundations was what eventually dictated the L-shape of the new building.
In spite of this, the form of the new building reflects its building programme from which it is derived. The scale of the building, which has a floor area measuring approximately seventeen thousand square metres, is an indication of the complexity of the operation. The central block contains the main entrance and principal functions and acts as a distributor to the two wings. The three distinctly identifiable blocks sit on a platform which houses the floor where all maritime related bodies come together and interact.
This is also the floor dedicated to the interface with the public and lies directly above a naturally ventilated car park facing the sea. The building responds to the harsh environment created by the heavily trafficked thoroughfare skirting the north facade by turning its back on it and having its entrance on the south-facing harbour façade that opens itself up to the bright natural light and views. A service spine containing vertical circulation cores, storage rooms and toilets, placed just behind the North façade, further enhances the detachment of the building from its polluted surroundings.
Moreover, the different units, each housed in one of the separate identifiable wings, are connected by sheltered outdoor bridges and ramps. These connect the three separate blocks into a harmonious composition of volumes that - together with the industrial port activities in the area, the backdrop of the historic bastions and the sea in the foreground - is symbolic of Malta’s future role in the evolution of the maritime importance not only of the harbours of Valletta and Malta in general, but also of the Mediterranean region.
The Maritime Trade Centre is located on the area where gas tanks were previously located. This brownfield site was one of the first pieces of land previously dedicated to industrial use to be rehabilitated around the Valletta Grand Harbour. Although the tanks had already been dismantled before the site was taken over, part of the area still required decontamination prior to the starts of the works. As such the Maritime Trade Centre is one of the most important contributors to the environmental regeneration of this part of the Harbour.
In order to reduce the environmental footprint of the building, several design parameters were considered to improve the overall performance of the fabric. Metal louvred screens on the South facades protect the glazed surfaces from the summer sun whilst allowing the lower incidence rays to penetrate in winter.
The optimization of the screen geometry was derived from studies on the shading, day lighting and visual performance of the screens to provide the maximum solar protection, thus reducing cooling loads, and daylight control combined with minimum loss in visual transparency.
To be able to achieve this equilibrium, parametric studies and simulations were carried out. The screen consists of 30mm diameter cylinders with 100mm vertical spacing and vertical framing at 1m intervals. The screen lies 650mm from the building façade, with horizontal walkways running in the gap on each level. The screen cylinders, framing and walkways have an anodized aluminium surface finish with a reflection of 60% to allow for weathering and to reduce the possibility of glare from the screen itself.
The screens provide up to 60% shading to the facades of the building during the summer months, reducing the peak simultaneous cooling demand for the Maritime Trade Centre building by around 10%, and providing significant savings in plant and equipment costs.
The aim of the new building for a Maritime Trade Centre was to regroup all offices relating to the administration and organisation of maritime operations in one hub that would act as a convenient one-stop shop for the users. The building programme and the design itself were developed to answer the requirements of the brief by providing clear circulation routes that allow easy and unencumbered communication throughout the office complex.
In this way, the architecture itself of the building has contributed to an increase in productivity of the agencies hosted in the building which is translated in turn into better services for the end-users.
Furthermore, the building design also allows modularity of the office spaces, providing open but manageable working environments for the different entities that make use of the Maritime Trade Centre.
This quality has been particularly noticeable with the recent setting up of the European Asylum Support Offices within the Maritime Trade Centre, following a European call for office spaces. The building was chosen, amongst other parameters, on the basis of its design and the convenience of use.
The Grand Harbour Regeneration Corporation is also housed within the same complex. This has been instrumental in turning the Maritime Trade Centre into the symbol of the regeneration operations currently being carried out throughout the Valletta harbours.