Malta's 20-storey outdoor lift was designed
to look "like an old building"

| 7 comments

Movie: Konrad Buhagiar of Architecture Project explains how he built a 60 metre-high outdoor lift in historic Valletta, Malta, in our latest interview with category winners at last month's Inside Festival in Singapore.

Barrakka Lift in Valletta, Malta, by Architecture Project
Photograph is by Sean Mallia

Barrakka Lift by local architecture studio Architecture Project, which won the Transport category at the festival, is a 20-storey elevator that takes people from Valletta's historic Grand Harbour to the top of the Maltese capital's sixteenth-century fortified walls.

Upper Barrakka Gardens lift
Upper Barrakka Gardens lift, completed in 1905

A lift was originally built on the site in 1905, but was dismantled in the 1980s. "After the Second World War and the advent of air travel, the gateway into the island stopped being the sea," Buhagiar explains. "So the lift was practically obsolete."

Barrakka Lift in Valletta, Malta, by Architecture Project
Photograph is by Sean Mallia

"The situation was reversed recently with the introduction of a cruise liner terminal and this brings to the shores of Malta thousands of tourists in one day."

Barrakka Lift in Valletta, Malta, by Architecture Project
Photograph is by Sean Mallia

Malta has experienced a number of earthquakes throughout its history, so the lift had to be very structurally strong, Buhagiar says.

This was complicated by the fact that the walls of the city are subject to a conservation order and therefore could not be touched by the structure.

Barrakka Lift in Valletta, Malta, by Architecture Project
Photograph is by Luis Rodríguez López

"No structural members connect the lift laterally to the fortification walls," Buhagiar explains. "The lift had to spring up vertically and had to be designed in such a way that it was structurally sound."

Barrakka Lift in Valletta, Malta, by Architecture Project
Photograph is by Sean Mallia

'"The staircase, which threads through the centre of the structure, in fact makes the structure much more rigid and therefore seismically strong."

Barrakka Lift in Valletta, Malta, by Architecture Project
Photograph is by Luis Rodríguez López

However, Buhagiar says the greater challenge was designing a contemporary structure that didn't look out of place next to the sixteenth-century architecture of Valletta.

Barrakka Lift in Valletta, Malta, by Architecture Project
Photograph is by Luis Rodríguez López

"I always say that one can find a solution for the structural and technical problems," he says. "The trouble is, how do you find something that will age well, will not look trendy today and be passé tomorrow, and which will match the timelessness of the manmade landscape that surrounds it?"

"It was important to find a form that had interest today, which looked like it was already old when we built it and would survive in time."

Barrakka Lift in Valletta, Malta, by Architecture Project
Photograph is by Luis Rodríguez López

The whole structure of the lift is wrapped in a corrugated aluminium mesh, which was chosen because of how it ages, says Buhagiar.

"Using the mesh helped because it is a shiny, contemporary material but it immediately acquires a patina when it reacts with the saline environment," he explains. "And, because it's very textured, it collects dust. So already when it was built it looked like an old building. At the same time it's contemporary."

Barrakka Lift in Valletta, Malta, by Architecture Project
Photograph is by Sean Mallia

He adds: "It's extremely popular. We've been working in Valletta for 20 years and this is the first time nobody - not one person - criticised [the project] because it's a contemporary structure within an ancient setting."

Konrad Buhagiar of Architecture Project
Konrad Buhagiar of Architecture Project

This movie was filmed at Inside Festival 2013, which took place at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore from 2 to 4 October. The next Inside Festival will take place at the same venue from 1 to 3 October 2014. Award entries are open February to June 2014.

  • guest

    Cool!

  • Concerned Citizen

    Umm, if you consider the 1970s as old, then yes, it looks old. Still, it looks out of place as if it fell off a spaceship and landed there.

  • Rui Pedro

    It delivers to perfection! Great job!

  • Ivy S.

    It looks a bit unfinished to me, a construction in progress.

  • Javi

    I think this is the point, a little bit of destroyed look, as the old walls of the city.

  • Markus

    I’ve used it and the unfinished appearance really makes it more of an experience and highlights the views. I think it also helps it feel more historic and less space age.

    Otherwise it would feel very out of place and detached from its setting. It is a super modern high rise lift within the boundaries of UNESCO world heritage site and as such needs some softening etc.

  • Sompong Panich

    It is a piece of sculpture, a functional sculpture. God did it not him.