Artistes protest against Piano design

Wednesday 17 Feb 2010

Valletta's open air theatre design is 'operationally challenging'

128 artistes have signed and delivered a petition to the Maltese Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi requesting that he drops Renzo Piano’s designs for a roofless theatre included in his new City Gate masterplan. The signatories include opera singers, artists, dancers and musicians who are protesting against the ‘afterthought’ of the open air theatre.

Frustrated that suggestions made during the consultation process for the €60-€80 million theatre were ignored, the statement read in part: “May we reiterate that the an open-air theatre in its proposed location is operationally challenging due to security measures imposed by any Parliamentary building, limited by weather conditions and also prone to noise pollution: both that which it produces, which can disturb people living in the neighbourhood, and the noise produced around it, such as fireworks, outside festivities, and other factors which can be a severe hindrance to performances.”

The Prime Minister had previously stated that as there were already three closed theatres in the city - the Manoel Theatre, the theatre at St James Cavalier and the Mediterranean Conference Centre, a new concept was needed. But the signatories say an open-theatre is nothing new. They called instead for a covered multi-functional space which addresses issues in the current performance spaces (such as acoustics and modern amenities) and issues raised from their ‘vast knowledge and experience in the pitfalls and opportunities of open-air experiences’.

The open air theatre is part of the overall City Gate masterplan which will, upon completion, provide a new gateway into Valletta, Malta’s capital city and a new parliamentary building with plans to regenerate the bus terminal and other buildings in the future.

The artistes concluded their petition: “We look forward to a time when Renzo Piano’s unstinting efforts to save the space from the hands of politicians can be fully explored and developed not as an afterthought or in competition with parliamentary sittings, housing estate facades or a bus terminus but treated with respect, conviction and expressed as an integral part of Malta’s cultural vision.

Ultimately, the performance space should not be seen as a monument, but as a dynamic cultural focus, essential to the successful development of the City Gate Project and the culture led regeneration of Valletta.”

Piano was initially invited to help guide Valletta’s regeneration plans in 1988 but was dropped from the project after controversy over his designs. His new plans were submitted more recently along with those of local architect Richard England but there has been public contempt for both. The debate is spreading throughout the Maltese population and a Facebook group entitled 'Renzo Piano - should I stay or should I go? (Valletta Project)' has been started by one Maltese resident to gauge opinions. One Piano supporter stated: "A few years ago you designed what was to be a symbol for Malta as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris...please stay...conservative critics please go!! We want a classic example of contemporary architecture", while another states, "I believe that Renzo Pianos Proposal is highly overrated. Others could do much better."

Niki May Young
News Editor

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