16 Jan, 2009: Don't let agendas block the view - David Felice
In 2008, the House of Lords in the UK held a debate on architecture for the first time in four years. The debate was intended to "call to attention the case for encouraging high-quality architecture in the UK and for ensuring that design quality is taken into account by local planning authorities".
Architects should be placed at the heart of all government decision-making when it comes to the built environment. That was the message given by Richard Rogers during the debate. He called for Cabe - the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment - to be strengthened, adding that design review panels should be set up throughout the country.
In evaluating quality in architecture and urban design, Cabe states that "the appearance of our built environment is important but good design is about much more than how things look. It is about uplifting communities and transforming how people feel and behave. It is also about using resources more effectively and imaginatively. In short, good design improves the quality of life for everyone".
Also earlier in the year, Worldarchitecture.com (Wan) had reported that the French President was seeking advice from what was being called the "dream team" to develop a new vision for Paris... The article reported that, in a surprise move, President Nicolas Sarkozy summoned 15 of the world's top architects to the Élysée Palace to discuss his vision for the French capital.
French architect Dominique Perrault met the President and talked to Wan about Mr Sarkozy's vision for Paris. Mr Perrault commented that the President was being both audacious and innovative. The hope was that this would cause the introduction of measures that would improve the quality of the environment as well as the quality of life of its citizens.
Of course, architects need to deserve this privileged relationship with politicians. Architects need to earn their clout through the development and persistent growth of their profession and their contribution to the community and its environment. But only political decisions can help to ensure that there is zero tolerance for poor architecture... and it is only by rewarding quality that this can be achieved.
The architect in Malta is at the heart of the building process but also at the centre of issues like sustainability, energy efficiency, landscape and urban design. His role is much wider than simply obtaining permission to build for his clients... all of you out there. But he too is to blame for the sense of dissatisfaction of the prevailing situation; he should not, however, be carrying that blame on his own.
Consider this excerpt from Architecture And Quality Of Life, a document published by the Architects' Council of Europe: "The built environment records the mood of society more than any other form of cultural expression. Society's economic and social efficiency is made legible through the way it treats its public spaces and through the nature and extent of its construction activities. A fully functional, quality and well-managed built environment has a motivating effect on society; it sustains its identity and propels it to excellence in all undertakings".
The position paper, The Urban Challenge, published by the Chamber of Architects in 2007, tried to identify the issue we are confronted with, namely the failure of the free market and indeed that of the regulatory framework within which we operate.
The construction market has sought profit and economic well-being in the narrow sense, and has ignored the external cost it imposes on society: the dust, congestion, loss of amenity and natural resources. This is market failure, and few will dispute that there is a need to nudge it towards a better course of action through education, guidance, regulation and even self-regulation.
Yet, along with market failure we also live the reality of regulatory failure; governance that could be questioned in terms of timeliness consistency, enforcement and predictability. We need governance in the sector but, above all what we need is good governance. The question is: Why are we talking about this again? Have we not already been here before, in the 1960s, the 1970s and the 1980s? Has Mepa not tried throughout the 1990s till now?
The answer I could hazard is that there has never been a time like the present for action aimed at quality. In our current state of relative economic well-being, the public demand for quality of life - including that achievable through the built environment - has increased.
The challenges raised by our built environment can be overcome through commitment to the development of a vision to work for better quality places that bring dignity, pride and real delight to their users. The role of the media in forming public opinion is critical to raise the overall awareness of good design and to the pursuit of a healthy discussion. The Chamber of Architects is working to promote the establishment of a National Centre for Architecture and the Built Environment, which would support research, education, heritage promotion, advisory and design review services to assist in the delivery of places that respect society's needs for an architecture and an urban and rural environment that truly meet our aspirations.
The author is past president of the Chamber of Architects.
18 Nov, 2008: The Urban Challenge wins Din l-Art Ħelwa Awards
Kamra tal-Periti received 2 prestigious awards for the publication of "The Urban Challenge: Our Quality of Life and the Built Environment" which was published in 2007.
The Din l-Art Ħelwa Built Heritage Journalism Award Prix d'Honneur and the Din l-Art Ħelwa Built and Natural Heritage Journalism Silver Medal were received by the Kamra on Friday, 14 November, 2008.
“The Urban Challenge" presents the vision of the Kamra tal-Periti for a more sustainable development of the built and rural environment and endorses the need for quality in design as an essential tool for the nation's economic and social development. "The Urban Challenge" also presented to the Prime Minister as part of the Kamra's position with respect to the proposed reform of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority.
The Kamra tal-Periti is continuing in its endeavour to pursue the work begun by The Urban Challenge to foster a more informed debate on the quality of our built environment, and is working on a series of high-profile events.
The first event will be a Business Breakfast to be held on November 29 where the guest speaker will be the Prime Minister Dr Lawrence Gonzi who will be speaking about the proposed MEPA reform. The second event will be held on November 21 and will consist of a full day conference entitled "The Urban Challenge: small = tall?". Featuring a number of internationally-acclaimed speakers, this conference will address the debate on the demand and impact of tall buildings, with a particular emphasis on the local situation.
Further information on both these events can be found at www.ktpmalta.com.
14 Sep, 2008: RIBA gold medallist at Architecture Nights
The third edition of Architecture Nights will reach its climax next month with a lecture by British architect Edward Cullinan, who was awarded the 2008 Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Gold Medal for Architecture in February.
Mr Cullinan, a great contemporary architect, is an inquisitive, inventive and passionate composer and maker of buildings. He has taught and examined extensively in the UK and abroad, being awarded five professorships: Banister Fletcher Professor at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, Graham Willis Visiting Professor at Sheffield, George Simpson Visiting Professor at Edinburgh and Visiting Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston.
Currently a visiting professor at the University of Nottingham, he was also awarded honorary doctorates at the Universities of Lincolnshire and Humberside, East London and Sheffield.
In addition, he was named a Commander of the British Empire in 1987 for services to architecture, elected a Royal Academician in 1989 and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland in 1995.
In 2005, he was awarded a special commendation at the Prince Philip Designers Prize, for outstanding lifetime achievement in design. He has been an active trustee of Sir John Soane's Museum, the Construction Industry for Youth Trust, the Building Experiences Trust and the Koestler Award Trust for art in prisons.
After the presentation of the RIBA award, Mr Cullinan said: "I've been practising architecture for 55 years; now you're going to give me the real (gold) thing. Thank you fellow architects for appreciating the value of a general practitioner."
Since its foundation in 1965, Edward Cullinan Architects (ECA) have been designing carefully composed, award-winning, innovative buildings. The firm is committed to the idea that a successful building is one that responds thoughtfully and gracefully to clients' needs and to its local context. The firm has adopted a strong interest in changing patterns of use, satisfying the needs of the users, responding to the context and conserving energy.
The firm has been involved in a multitude of projects, producing different solutions within commercial, cultural, housing, health, primary and secondary education sectors, in the university sector and in urban regeneration and master planning.
The protection of the environment is at the heart of its approach to architectural design.
The best example of this commitment is the re-development of the firm's office in Islington, which will exceed the London mayor's new target of 20 per cent of energy from renewable sources.
Among the green measures are five roof-mounted turbines. A single, three-metre, horizontal axis turbine will provide 30 per cent of the annual energy consumption for the office and four two-metre vertical axis turbines will provide enough electricity to power the spaces.
Some of the major projects to date by ECA include the New Music Centre, Purcell School of Music in Hertfordshire; the Singapore Management University at Bras Basah; the University of East London's Docklands Campus; and the RMC International Headquarters in Egham, Surrey.
Current projects include Clink Street, a mixed-use development in Southwark, London; Stonebridge Hillside Hub, a mixed-use building in northwest London; a new herbarium and library wing at the Royal Botanic Kew Gardens; a low-energy site-responsive office block with ground floor retail at the Masshouse, Birmingham; and the Warwick Digital Laboratory at the University of Warwick.
The Architecture Nights lecture on October 11 at the Robert Samut Hall, Floriana at 7.30 p.m., organised by the Chamber of Architects, will focus mainly on sustainable and low-energy architecture. It is being held under the patronage of the British High Commission in Malta.
5 Aug, 2008: Architects welcome government's commitment to reform Mepa
The Kamra tal-Periti (Chamber of Architects) has welcomed the government's commitment to undertake what it said were the necessary and much desired reforms to the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (Mepa).
The chamber confirmed its agreement with the decision to give the reform process the importance it deserves by placing it under the direct stewardship of the Prime Minister in the light of his responsibility.
The chamber believes that the whole scope of the reform at Mepa should be driven by an ingrained desire and a steadfast commitment to ensure that the nation achieves quality and sustainability in the built and unbuilt environment.
The reform process should, therefore, form part of an overall process of institutional renewal based on a clear vision for the economic and social development of the nation. The proposals should be designed to deliver tangible and sustained results on three main objectives, the chamber said.
The first regards major improvements in the quality of the built and unbuilt (urban and rural) environment measured in terms of the social and environmental benefits that development provides to society and not merely the economic growth of particular sectors.
The second deals with a qualitative improvement in the level of service provided by the authority, measured not merely in terms of cases processed, but in terms of consistency, transparency and fairness.
The third proposal concerns the ability of the authority to enhance its human resources by attracting and retaining enough personnel of the right calibre and qualifications capable of providing a service of impartiality and excellence for the benefit of society as a whole.
The chamber submitted its policy paper on the Mepa reform to the Prime Minister last March, basing its recommendations on its vision for a more sustainable development of the environment.
The chamber also noted with satisfaction the ongoing consultation process being carried out by the government and Mepa with various sectors on the proposals being put forward, and assured the government of its continued support and commitment to be available for such discussions.
1 Aug, 2008: Mepa reform
The Malta Environment and Planning Authority reform consultation process continued yesterday when Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi had a series of back-to-back meetings with NGOs in an effort to better understand their suggestions and start making decisions.
The aim of the reform, he told the NGOs, is to have more consistency and transparency in Mepa decisions, reach higher levels of efficiency for clients and ensure better enforcement.
Din l-Art Ħelwa president Martin Galea said the focus was mainly on good governance, the biggest problems of the authority today being its many controversial decisions and the fact that most of the existing policies were not implemented.
He referred to the Mistra project as an example that had sent negative signals and cast a shadow of doubt over Mepa.
Speaking after a "positive" meeting with the Prime Minister, Mr Galea listed the lacunae in the floor-area ratio of buildings in outside development zones (ODZs), where development still occurred, and in urban conservation areas, where construction was also rampant.
Expressing the heritage and environment NGO's satisfaction that the Prime Minister took the Mepa reform under his wings, Mr Galea said it was one of the most pressing problems, other than the price of fuel, which had the biggest impact on everyone's lives.
Mr Galea said he was optimistic, despite the many mistakes of the past, that the Mepa reform would lead to real changes.
"The fact that the Prime Minister has taken the matter into his hands means he is giving it due importance and, therefore, while mistakes will still be made, there is less of a chance of major ones happening.
"It is important to now concentrate on the quality of life. With an authority that is strong, transparent and does its duty, everyone should be content," he said.
Dr Gonzi also met with the Chamber of Architects, the Chamber of Planners, the Users Committee, Nature Trust and Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, in the presence of Mepa chairman Austin Walker.
The Mepa reform, Dr Gonzi said, was not being considered merely as an administrative process to reach higher levels of efficiency but as an ingredient without which Malta could not achieve sustainable development. Economic development and job generation had to be achieved while safeguarding the environment and quality of life, he said.
Dr Gonzi said he would not be deluding himself or anyone that it was easy to achieve such a delicate balance in a country with major density challenges in terms of population and vehicles. Solutions would not be easy but collaboration with related NGOs was the way forward and could make inroads into the challenges ahead, he said.
The function of the country's architects in terms of sustainable development was vital and their suggestions were of immense value and would be given their deserved weight, Dr Gonzi told the Chamber of Architects.
Its president, David Felice, said it was expecting "big" things from the Mepa reform and that it had high expectations, adding that it was at the government's disposal to assist in the process.
The reform issue, he added, was wider and went beyond just Mepa: The major changes had to lead to substantial and urgent improvement in the quality and the sustainability of both the developed and undeveloped environment.
30 Jul, 2008: Gonzi in listening mode on Mepa reform
The Prime Minister has embarked on the "long, complicated" reform process of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority and is this week meeting six organisations to hear their views.
"This process is fundamental because it is intimately linked to sustainable development," Lawrence Gonzi said.
"Pushing a strategy to freeze development is not right, yet it's also wrong to expect to develop areas that are precious to the island's heritage and quality of life. It's important to strike the right balance and I'm convinced we'll get there," he stressed.
Mepa's reform was intended to lead towards greater transparency, consistent and efficient decisions and improved enforcement.
"I have made my position clear that as a policy we need to move towards a principle where there is no development in outside development zones except in exceptional cases such as agricultural projects, for example," Dr Gonzi said.
The first meeting kicked off yesterday evening with the Chamber of Small and Medium Enterprises - GRTU, which presented a position paper containing its members' feedback and proposed solutions.
GRTU director general Vince Farrugia said a survey had been carried out among its members - especially developers, who number over 250 - and the major issues that emerged was the problem of unidentified roles within Mepa and "mini empires" within the same organisation.
To succeed in shedding its present image, Mepa had to take on a real management approach through improved structures, a full-time Development Control Commission board and more professionals involved in the decision-making process, among others.
Dr Gonzi will tomorrow be meeting the Chamber of Architects, the Malta Chamber of Planners, Mepa's Users Committee, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Nature Trust and Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar.
3 Jul, 2008: Increased participation of civil society in EU structural funds
Over 50 representatives from various civil society organisations, local councils and public bodies attended a seminar organised by the Malta Resource Centre at SOS Malta.
The seminar, Towards The Increased Participation In Structural Funds, provided a forum for discussion about training, technical assistance and capacity-building needs of Maltese civil society organisations with regard to EU structural funds.
The event was part-financed by the structural funds programme for Malta 2004-2006 (European Social Fund: cofinancing 75 per cent). It was organised as part of The Structural Funds Training and Technical Assistance Programme
for NGOs and Civil Society Organisations 2007 - a sub-project which the Malta Resource Centre implemented within the scope of the European Social Fund's Technical Assistance.
Between 2004 and 2006, only five NGOs participated in projects financed by structural funds. In an effort to increase the participation of the third sector in the European Social Fund, the pilot programme, implemented by the Malta Resource Centre last year, aimed at training civil society organisations about the project mechanisms of structural funds.
The training programme consisted of a total of 50 training hours, spread over eight workshops held in August,
September and October last year.
During the last seminar, Philippa Arrigo, project coordinator, presented the main outcomes and recommendations
emanating from the pilot training programme. She explained that, within the spirit of the partnership principle, further training and capacity-building initiatives will need to be undertaken to ensure that the participation of Malta's third sector in projects financed through the European Social Fund is enhanced.
She referred to the sense of ownership which the sector needs to adopt towards the structural funds process in general, and listed various measures which could be undertaken towards this end.
Noel Toledo, director on cohesion policy at the Planning and Priorities Coordination Division, explained that technical assistance plays a critical role for the efficient implementation of structural funds.
The seminar also provided an opportunity for practical accounts to be given by Maltese civil society organisations having experienced the application and implementation processes involved in European Social Fund projects. Presentations were given by Holder Saliba from the Richmond Foundation and Simone Vella Lenicker from the Chamber of Architects, respectively.
Claudia Taylor-East, director at SOS Malta, said the Malta Resource Centre will continue to promote cooperation
between various stakeholders to make sure that NGOs working with and for disadvantaged groups have access to structural funds with measures in place.
All participants were provided with a publication which the Malta Resource Centre produced at the end of the training
programme. The publication includes various recommendations for future training and capacity-building initiatives for the third sector.
27 May, 2008: Architects applaud PBS development application withdrawal
The Kamra tal-Periti applauded the government’s recent decision to call for the withdrawal of the development application for the demolition of what was formerly known as Rediffusion House in Gwardamangia.
The recent planning application by the Public Broadcasting Services calling for the demolition of an integral part of the complex was withdrawn by PBS on the instructions of the Minister for Education, Culture, Youth and Sports, Dolores Cristina after consultation with the Prime Minister.
The move, the chamber said, comes as a refreshing foresight that breaks the recent trend adopted by MEPA that the conservation of much older buildings, irrespective of their historical or architectural merit, tends to take precedence over the preservation of contemporary buildings, some of which are iconic examples of excellence in local architecture.
Had this planning application been accepted, it would have led to the irretrievable loss of one of the pioneering examples of 20th century modern architecture in Malta.
26 May, 2008: 'Rediffusion House' decision breaks mistaken trend - architects
The Kamra tal-Periti (Chamber of Architects) has welcomed the government’s decision to withdraw the application for demolition of what was formerly known as Rediffusion House in Guardamangia.
This, the chamber said, was a refreshing decision that had broken the trend adopted by MEPA that the conservation of much older buildings, “irrespective of their historical or architectural merit,” tended to take precedence over the preservation of contemporary buildings some of which were iconic examples of excellence in local architecture.
“Undeniably, in the fast developing societies of today, buildings need not be older than a century to deserve preservation. Indeed, the reasons why we preserve our built heritage depends on more important criteria, certainly not the gravely misguided notions of nostalgia,” the chamber said.
17 May, 2008: Universal design for all – Minister Dalli
“Only by defining an appropriate vision for Malta where social, economic and environmental objectives work together harmoniously, can we achieve lasting sustainable development,” said Social Policy Minister John Dalli, during a seminar on accessibility for all, held by the Chamber of Architects in collaboration with the National Commission for Persons with Disability (KNPD).
Quoting from the document entitled “The Urban Challenge”, a document issued by the Chamber of Architects last year, the minister explained the challenges of sustainable development and how the urban environment reflects the social and economic objectives of Malta, which depends on environmental standards more than ever before.
The seminar was part financed by the European Social Fund and falls under Measure 2.3 on Lifelong Learning and Social Inclusion. Such measures, the minister explained, are meant to strengthen the workforce and support the scaling-up of qualifications, besides actually addressing the issue of integrating persons with special needs as well as those socially excluded into the labour market by means of specific employment schemes.
“Continued Professional Development (or CPD), particularly of architects and engineers, is a key aspect in achieving a workforce that is adequately equipped to tackle the challenges of today’s economy,” he said. Besides this, CPD encourages professional development of expertise in particular areas.
Since its beginning, KNPD functioned in order to eradicate social difficulties through the removal of barriers. The minister described how lack of physical accessibility remains one of the most serious barriers to social inclusion in today’s life. A culture change is needed for the creation of an inclusive environment, or universal design. This requires a change of mentality, a change in traditional practices and conviction that an inclusive society is both desirable and attainable.
16 May, 2008: New regulations for the protection of third party property during construction
The government will be introducing regulations aimed at protecting third parties and third party property during construction works.
These will be part of a phased implementation of regulations related to building construction over the coming months. This was stated yesterday by Resources and Rural Affairs Minister George Pullicino, during a speech he delivered to a seminar on Energy Efficiency organised by the Kamra tal-Periti.
On the subject of the conference, the minister noted that only yesterday the price of oil reached $127 per barrel. Based on current trends there are those who forecast that the price will top $200 per barrel by the end of the year.
By January 2009, Malta must introduce a system of certification regarding the energy performance of buildings as well as certification of boilers and air conditioning equipment.
Minister George Pullicino said that an effective educational campaign is needed. This should be widespread to target professionals who design buildings and mechanical and electrical apparatus, contractors and builders, real estate/property negotiators, as well as the general public. Such an educational campaign should not only focus on the new regulations, but more importantly, should inform the public of the benefits that can be gained when such regulations are enforced and abided by.
George Pullicino said that the demand for complex buildings is constantly on the increase. This, together with the increase in materials that are used for decorative purposes and the increase in the use of accessories and light installations, means that water heaters and air conditioners that run on electricity are often the cause of large and excessive use of energy.
He said that from an administrative perspective, there is also a need to create a system to ensure that laws and regulations are implemented, monitored, and that their enforcement takes place in a sound and efficient manner, that does not give rise to unnecessary bureaucratic measures.
He said that architects, engineers and professionals that work in this industry need to be better informed regarding their new role and responsibilities due to the systems of certification that will be introduced to ensure that the new regulations are implemented. This will take place through a number of information sessions that will be organised, where these procedures will be explained in more detail. These professionals must on their part, keep up to date with the standards that will be updated on a regular basis.
The way in which these regulations for control have been drafted ensures an element of self regulations which places responsibility for correct certification on those registered to carry out such work. The Building Control Office within the Services Division will ensure that these regulations are observed and will be authorised to check whether the required certificates were issued within the stipulated timeframes, as well as verify such certificates.
In those circumstances where the regulations would not have been followed, the Building Control Office will have the authority to take necessary corrective measures, as well as impose fines and sanctions on the Assessors who would have issued incorrect certificates.
11 May, 2008: Dutch architecture firm partner to lead 'nights' debate
The last Architecture Nights debate organised by the Kamra tal-Periti will be held at the Aula Magna in Valletta on Saturday at 7.30 p.m.
The debate, held under the patronage of the Dutch Embassy, will feature one of Holland's most prominent architecture firms - Mecanoo Architecten.
Firm partner Francesco Veenstra's broad range of experience includes public and cultural projects, commercial and residential buildings and international competitions.
Based in Delft, Mecanoo has produced many outstanding projects in architecture and urban planning, both domestically and internationally during its 25 years. With Mecanoo, the sensory aspect is mainly determined by the lavish use of materials. It excels in subtle combinations of the most diverse materials, including wood, concrete, copper, bamboo, brick, pebbles, zinc, stone, vegetation, glass and planes of saturated colour.
Mecanoo operates globally with an international staff of over 80 architects, interior designers, urban planners and landscape designers. The firm sees itself as a laboratory where new ideas can develop, influenced by architects with different cultural backgrounds and by the ideas of its international clients.
20 Apr, 2008: Architecture and Politics
The Kamra tal-Periti recently organised a forum entitled "Architecture and politics: partnering for sustainable development in the Mediterranean'" on the occasion of the Union of Mediterranean Architects' (UMAR) 14th general assembly in Malta. Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi delivered a keynote address. Other speakers included French Ambassador Jean Marc Rives, UMAR president Patrice Genet, Prof. Lino Briguglio, chairman of the National Committee for Sustainable Development, and KTP president David Felice.
This was Dr Gonzi's first public debate on the built environment since taking the local planning authorities and sustainable development under his wing. The KTP hopes this is the start of a long and healthy relationship between architecture and politics, particularly in the light of the fact that these two disciplines are responsible for the physical transformation of many of Malta's socio-economic and cultural objectives.
The Kamra supports Dr Gonzi's contribution, whereby he said that "the Government is always open to dialogue with the KTP, especially matters that are distinctive locally. We need to work together to achieve the highest professional standards to make sure that the core values of what we do together remain linked to what is valuable for quality of life and not merely for material wealth."
The forum focused on aspects of architectural practice where economic interest coincides with environmental relevance. Dr Gonzi highlighted the fact that "co-operation between researchers on this topic is bound to be fruitful, as also the documentation of successful traditional low energy media for controlling interior environments."
Dr Gonzi also referred to KTP's position paper on the built environment entitled 'The urban challenge: our quality of life and the built environment', saying that "the ideas in the document that are consistent with the objectives declared by UMAR were taken into account in the policies put forward by his party in the election."
Founded in Morocco in 1994, UMAR represents all but two of the architects' national organisations from countries in and around the Mediterranean basin. It aims to reveal architecture to be of public interest, architecture and the organisation of space being expressions of culture. It also acts as a forum for encouraging relationships of friendship, solidarity and confraternity between architects, while representing more than 300,000 architects in a dialogue with governments, regional and international institutions.
KTP, a founder member of UMAR, has been prominently active within the organisation. Malta is the official seat of the organisation and its secretary general is Mr Felice. Anthony Fenech Vella is the local representative on UMAR and was responsible for the organisation of its general assembly in Malta.
19 Jan, 2008: UMASA action at University: Students hold noisy protest indoors
The inclement weather did not prevent the University Students’ Council from holding a noisy rally yesterday, shifting the venue to the common room to protest against the deadlock between the government and the university lecturing staff.
The protest, which was scheduled for 10am, took a while to get off the ground, but more and more people arrived, packing the common room to bursting point by the time KSU president Roberta Avellino got round to giving a very lengthy speech.
The KSU claims the directives issued by the University of Malta Academic Staff Association (UMASA) were disproportionate and unfair on students, especially in view of the fact that exams due to be held on 17 January are in very real danger of being put off.
The students said the government and UMASA were both being “hard headed” and that the real victims of the standoff were the students who are in limbo, not knowing whether or not they will be able to sit for their exams in the coming days.
Meanwhile, in a statement, the University of Malta said it hoped that it would be possible for negotiations between the stakeholders to restart, in the interest of the students themselves and all parties concerned.
“Time is very much of the essence in this issue. University exams normally start on 17 January. It would still be possible to save the day should a solution to the impasse be found some four to five days prior to the established starting date, if exam papers are prepared in advance,” said the university.
It said that should the stakeholders refuse to restart discussions and directives are not lifted, then the university administration would need to explore the exams issue together with KSU and the unions so that a way forward which is the least damaging for the students be mapped out.
Rector Juanito Camilleri said he was in daily communication with the parties concerned in order to chart the best way forward. He said he was convinced that all parties had the good of the university at heart and appealed for discussions to continue with immediate effect so matters may be resolved as soon as possible.
The students used foghorns and placards to vent their frustration. However, while all were witty and expressed real frustration and worry, the pick of the bunch had to be a very relaxed student who carried the placard: “Stop adding to our already stressful situation”.
Ms Avellino said that instead of peacefully sitting down to study for exams in 10 days time, students were wracked with worry. She also said that if the deadlock is not broken and the papers are not submitted, exams would be put back and that in turn would lead to exams in June being moved further on, eating into summer holidays. This, she said, was unacceptable because people were trying to get summer work placements, Erasmus exchanges and especially, there were foreign students who are in Malta to learn and want to return home in the summer.
She said the KSU was not telling lecturers to not exercise their right to strike, but that the students should have been consulted and not pushed aside as they were.
Ms Avellino said that the UMASA issued a total of four directives on 16 December. She said that all the directives issued had a purpose to them, in the sense that they block any alternative path of action that could be taken to rectify issues, such as the boycott of committees and the university senate where such emergency decisions are taken.
She said that the actions of both the government and the UMASA were “shameful”. She also said the KSU was not in favour of blanket pass marks in the event of no exams being held, as it would be tantamount to having a piece missing from one’s degree.
The KSU said it would neither allow the government, nor the KSU to use students as “toys”. “Do not mess with our education,” she concluded. Ms Avellino then gave the stage to foreign students who spoke about their concern of returning home for the holidays, in view of there being no set date for exams at present.
Meanwhile, the Kamra tal-Periti (Chamber of Architects and Civil Engineers) said the situation which has been in existence since April of last year has now become too protracted and is adversely affecting the students, who are not involved in the dispute. The Kamra said it felt the dispute needs to be resolved as soon as possible.
The Kamra takes note of the statement made by the administration of the University in the sense that if the situation prolongs itself further the normal running of the university will be seriously jeopardised and the status of the university itself will be at stake.
29 Nov, 2007: Support for Chamber of Architects' proposals - Ideas on quality in architecture set to reach wider audience
The Chamber of Architects yesterday received a lot of support for its document on setting out a road map for the built and rural environment.
The chamber is also proposing the setting up of a national centre for the built environment. It would include an independent design review commission aimed at creating a platform to achieve quality in architecture and the design of buildings and public spaces.
Chamber president, David Felice said, at a seminar, that the challenge was not easy but not impossible.
Quoting a statement in the 1960s by Quentin Hugues, who then said "there is still time to save Malta, but only just," Mr Felice said the chamber wanted to create a sense of pride in architects, making them more aware and responsible.
Education Minister Louis Galea said the document expressed preoccupation about where the country is heading and expresses a sense of urgency and hope for a fresh start.
"The vision is not alien to our aspirations. On the contrary, it responds to them. Over the past 50 years, socio-economic development was concerned with providing housing.
"We are now speaking about quality of life issues for now and the future" he said.
Most of those who gave their views during the seminar, including Din l-Art Helwa and Federation of Industry president Martin Galea, said that what was positive about the document was that it was coming from architects. Several speakers raised issues such as vacant buildings, the importance of protecting important examples of contemporary architecture and the revision of rent laws.
Architect John Ebejer said leadership was vital to bring about a culture change.
This was needed to change people's habits about transport and to encourage them to find alternative investment opportunites rather than buying a second property, which was one of the causes fuelling demand for more property.
Astrid Vella, from Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar asked about the chamber's position on encouraging the use of existing buildings rather than building new ones.
Alternattiva Demokratika chairman Harry Vassallo urged the chamber to make its vision simpler and translate it into Maltese so that the man in the street could embrace it.
Geography lecturer John Schembri said urban density had to be taken into account.
The oft quoted figure of 1,200 people per square kilometre for Malta was somewhat misleading. Senglea, for instance, had a density of 19,000 people per square kilometer. Such factors had to be borne in mind when speaking about challenges in the urban fabric.
The chamber is to go back to the drawing board to find ways to fine tune its ideas further with a view to reach as wide an audience as possible.
29 Nov, 2007: Against the tourist's point of view - Ranier Fsadni
There is an austere way of looking that belongs, I imagine, to the recording angel. It is a look of almost cold, certainly pitiless, love. Some film-makers and photographers have it - say, the French auteur, Robert Bresson. I have recently glimpsed it again, in a collection of photographs of Valletta.
David Pisani's exhibition (Vanishing Valletta, Hilton Hotel, open to the public from November 30 - January 10) brings together 90 prints taken over the last 19 years. The early ones tend to focus on the port areas - steel, chimneys, warehouses, often locked up.
The later ones ascend into the city. Framing out most signs of late-20th century life, the pictures are a record of the establishments that once arose to service a thriving, industrial 19th century Valletta, and, having served, began to vanish with the dissipation of the city's industrial power.
Out of the decay a kind of purity emerges. It is like seeing a tramp bathed with the light of a halo.
I draw your attention to this way of looking at Valletta because this has been a week that initiated an important discussion on the future of the city. Both parties of government have announced details of plans to regenerate the city and "greater Valletta" and yesterday the Chamber of Architects launched a public discussion on what urban regeneration should mean.
For the Chamber, urbanism must suit the needs of a dynamic, moving, creative people. Urban systems unable to transport people around well, and to cater to their demands for sociability, as well as their working and housing needs, are failed urban environments.
From the political parties, we will need to hear more. It will not be easy for many of us, on the basis of artists' impressions and spin, to decide whether it is better for this building to be converted into a hotel or a private hospital, or for a new one to be a fully-fledged arts centre or one accommodating commercial outlets.
But such debate can only be good for Valletta. It will help us see the city in a wider context, in its relationship to the rest of the island. Today we all too often think of Valletta as a city within the bastions. Mr Pisani's photographs remind us that, at its most glorious, the city was a hive of activity that opened up and led to other places.
The real problem with the political parties' visions for Valletta is that, while they are internationalising Valletta's future, they appear to be thinking in terms of a future for its real estate and tourism, less so of a future for Maltese life in Valletta.
It could be a mistaken impression formed by the dearth of information, so far, on what social life is imagined for the city. However, there are some disturbing signs of what can happen to Valletta if we see it only from the tourist's point of view.
I have an office at the lower end of Valletta. Some of the current paving works in Valletta appear to follow the tourist's route (or perhaps, the route we suggest, thanks to road paving, that tourists follow). This "route" stops at some notional point that cuts off the lower part from the upper.
The CCV cameras at the upper end of the city are fixed to decorative rods; at least some of those at the lower end are fixed to a makeshift one. I doubt anyone in power really means to suggest that whether aesthetics matter in Valletta depends entirely on where you are. But that is what is being conveyed in practice.
The cheaper housing at the lower end is naturally convenient for immigrant families with limited income for rent. It is my impression (no more than that) that the number of such families in lower Valletta is increasing. I do not wish to be misunderstood: legal immigrant families should be hosted as inclusively as possible in our society. But a concentration of such families in one part of a city is unlikely either to foster inclusiveness for immigrants or to integrate the life of the city as a whole.
As Valletta is regenerated, an invisible line is beginning to divide upper from lower Valletta. It is surely an unintended consequence, but probably caused by the misguided idea of trying to serve tourists better.
The irony is that one serves tourists best, in these matters, not by trying to see things from their point of view, because that frustrates the very urban vitality that would attract them. It changes a real city into a museum piece with a tourist trail.
Mr Pisani's photographs remind us that Valletta was at its best when it sought to be a city for its times, and not frozen in its past. To be such a city, again, Valletta needs to be rendered beautiful, yes, but also to become a city for us, for our complex, jumbled times. When it does, it will thrive and tourists will flock to enjoy its haloed hubbub.