THE HEART OF MALTA: INTERVIEW WITH ARCHITECT SVETOZAR ANDREEV
Updated: Jun 29, 2020
`THE HEART OF MALTA PROJECT: A MODERN JEWEL IN THE MEDITERRANEAN CROWN`
- I interviewed you some time ago, and when I read back over my notes from that occasion, it struck me that your two life mottos, “Pursue the impossible” and “The future is now”, come together very nicely in the Heart of Malta. The project is a symbol, and very timely one, that stands as a reflection of the indomitable human spirit. Can you tell me what the Heart of Malta means for you?
- The Heart of Malta is a very personal project. The dramatic history of the Azure Window, destroyed by a storm in March 2017, represented a perfect way for me to express my approach to the theme of our interaction with nature, as well as my understanding of the space which human culture occupies in the natural context, and the space which architecture occupies in the context of modern culture. I think that two main themes stand out here – the symbolic and the structural – which came together to shape this project.
The gleaming, spectral form of an Azure Window made from steel, reflecting the sky, the land, and the sea is a hugely powerful symbol, one which challenges both the elements and time itself. It truly reflects the theme of the interaction between the manmade and the natural, of downfall and resurgence, as the fundamental leitmotif of contemporary culture, and that imbues this project with its own drama and history. This collective symbol of tragic obduracy in the face of the forces of nature, with which humankind masters the laws of physics, flies into the Cosmos, strives to break free from the bounds of the natural environment, and develops new technology in all areas of science. At the same time, we must not forget that humanity and human consciousness are an integral part of nature, they live by her immutable laws, and our culture is nothing but a reflection of nature itself. This paradox is key to understanding what I have put into this project, by compelling an ultra-modern, reflective steel structure to interact with its natural setting.
Today we hold in our hands unlimited possibilities in terms of materials, technology and means of self-expression, and our civilisation strives towards tomorrow. In contrast to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, we no longer build cathedrals which incorporate all the cultural achievements of our time into a unified whole. We do, however, still feel the need today to bring all our knowledge together into centres that reflect our current perception of the world, and which shape the development of the language of our culture.
And so, the Heart of Malta is a very apt example of the ultimate integration of meaning and architecture, which will become not only an outstanding monument to the original Azure Window, which was destroyed by the sea, but will also come to mean what the cathedrals embodied for people in the past – the quintessence of our entire culture, a culture which endeavours desperately to cross the boundaries of what is possible. It may be for this reason that this new symbol of the Maltese Islands has stirred the hearts of so many people the world over, something which could not reflect better the spirit of Malta’s past.
- Your project is very multifaceted: what will we see if we stand inside the arch itself?
- The inner space of the complex takes the form of a helical spiral, creating five levels which are deliberately designed to host digital exhibitions dedicated to the history of Malta and the wider world, to culture, the arts, design and science. The complex`s multifunction exhibition space will allow not only the hosting of themed digital exhibitions, but also concerts, TV and internet broadcasts, lectures, stage- and fashion shows with dynamic video-projections across the whole interior of the complex.
This totally unique concept has not as yet been realised in any of the world`s cultural centres, it has unlimited possibilities for continuous further development, and it will be an outstanding addition to the dramatic architecture of the Heart of Malta. Undoubtedly, this approach to the museum’s design will make it an absolutely unique attraction, not only for the local population, but also for tourists from other countries.
- If I understand correctly, you are creating not only a visual symbol, but also a powerful economic tool which will bring unprecedented interest from the tourism sector to the site.
- From the moment that my project was first published, several hundred articles have appeared in some of the largest media outlets in Europe, Asia, and North and South America. Aside from the main news and professional architectural outlets, huge interest in the project has been expressed by publications and periodicals in the tourism sector, such as National Geographic, Geo, Conde Nast Traveller and many others.
In the press-release which we presented to the Maltese government, we set out the principal objective of the project as a way to compensate for the loss of this icon of Malta, the world famous Azure Window, by creating a new architectural and cultural landmark and centre of attraction for the Maltese islands. Therefore, analyzing the reaction from the world`s press, and seeing that articles have continued to appear ever since the project was first presented, we have been given meaningfulconfirmation of the project`s success, and that it will undoubtedly prove to be a fantastic investment in the future of Malta and Gozo.
Another very important aspect should be mentioned here: Malta has very close links to the film industry. The cultural and natural landscape of Malta is like a ready-made film set. Malta has been involved in the production of a huge number of movies, including Gladiator, Titanic, Troy, Game of Thrones, and any number of other popular films.
What was unexpected for me was to receive so many letters from people around the world who saw a new James Bond residence in my project. At first I didn`;t take it very seriously, but very soon I started to think about the potential which the project possessed for the TV and film industries. It should not be forgotten that the Azure Window appeared in many films and advertising campaigns, and upon its return in the form of a unique and significant architectural landmark, it could well continue its film career, thereby creating an additional source of revenue for the museum complex.
- I know that a whole range of well-known companies have already expressed an interest in taking part in this unique project.
- Everyone takes an interest in significant projects which enable them to showcase their strengths, so yes, a great many leading European companies have responded entusiastically to our invitation to take part in the Heart of Malta. If I may, I would like to highlight a few of them:
FLOS – Italy`s long established leader in lighting design and manufacture, which has worked with some of the world`s largest companies, including, Apple, Tesla, and practically all of Europe1s largest fashion houses and hotel chains.
VONDOM – the world`s leading manufacturer of avant-garde outdoor furniture collections for hotel chains, restaurants and tourist resorts, working with such designers as Agatha Luiz De La Prada, Karim Rashid, Ora Ito, Ross Lovegrove, Ramon Esteve and many others.
SOLARLUX and CERO – two companies which create advanced glazing solutions for façades and interiors, whose clients and partners include famous architectural bureaux, such as Zаha Hadid Architects, and which have been awarded many prizes for innovative design.
OUCHH – the world renowned art and design group, which creates electronic and digital exhibitions using artificial intelligence.
We have also received support from the TECHNION institute, specifically from Alec Groysman, chairman of the Israeli Society of Chemical Engineers and one of the world`s leading chemistry experts, known for his extensive scientific research into corrosion, who has been involved in the design and construction of gas and oil pipelines in the Mediterranean region, and whose recommendations for the use of metals in marine environments proved invaluable during the design process for this project.
In addition to the main design, we sent a joint presentation to the Maltese government, which included these and other companies, in order to demonstrate our readiness to bring together leading specialists from around the work to make the Heart of Malta a reality.
- Every country has its own visual symbol, after all art stands apart from time and politics. It seems to me that the Heart of Malta is just such a kind of powerful visual monument reflecting the Maltese character.
- The Louvre`s glass pyramid, the arch of La Défense and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Sydney`s and Hamburg`s opera houses Bilbao`s Guggenheim Museum, Mt. Rushmore in the US, Mexico`s Museo Soumaya, – all these are examples of outstanding architecture which have gone on to become national symbols. To a great extent, they shape the image of the countrys which gave the green light to their creation. But today, art is politics – art no longer stands apart from its time, it shapes it.
On the subject of the Maltese character, what I see in the monuments to Malta`s past is a palpable sense of decisiveness, courage, and the ability to defend the nation`s independence. From the impregnable bastions of Valletta, raised on the orders of St John, to the Great Siege of the 16th century and the glorious defence of Malta during the Second World War – this character is visible everywhere. Today, the Maltese people are seeking a balance between the desire to retain their individuality and their aspiration to develop further. For this reason, Maltese society is quite strongly divided in their views on the future of the islands. Nonetheless, time marches implacably on, and now is the time for the Maltese to once again show their erstwhile courage and decisiveness, to turn the archipelago into a modern jewel in the Mediterranean crown, with its own distinct culture which is oriented on the future, and which lives not only on monuments from the past, but also by creating new values for today.
- St Petersburg also needs a symbol of this kind, after all the main language of international society is the language of aesthetics. I am sure that in the not too distant future a similar powerful visual monument to its time will also emerge here.
- As far as I remember, the language of international society is not aesthetic, it is English. As regards the emergence of a new cultural symbol in St Petersburg, I think that this will happen, sooner or later. I sincerely hope that the city authorities and large corporations are aware of the need to involve themselves in not only infrastructure projects – as necessary as they certainly are, they can neither bring people together, nor can they inspire them. We should all start thinking about the creation of a cultural centre – a new symbol for our city, one which not only reflects our past, but which addresses the future and shapes the direction of the development of our culture in the global context. Only then will we gain a new centre of attraction, not only for the city`s inhabitants, but also for visitors from other countries. On that subject I have a whole range of ideas, but that is perhaps a topic for another interview.
- Do you think that there is a connection between the aesthetics of Rolls-Royce and the Heart of Malta?
- As with any exclusive design product, the Rolls-Royce concept has its own strict inner logic, which flows from one model to the next. It is built on the synthesis of cultural codes which create an image that is both unique and well thought through. Notwithstanding the absence of any outward similarity to more familiar forms of retro-futurism, the Rolls-Royce concept is based on its principal theme – a nostalgic view of the past. It is not difficult to see how the shapes and forms of automobiles from the 1920s and 1930s, from post-Victorian England’s high society, shine through contemporary design.
The marque`s demonstrative conservatism is a declaration of the values and now-lost way of life of aristocratic Europe, transformed into the aesthetic code of an expensive object. The unhurried silhouette, which pays no heed to aerodynamic design, the direct references to models from the beginning of the last century, from stylised old-fashioned emblems and radiator grilles, doors which open against the direction of travel like on an old limousine, to the concealed power of the mighty engine, which is deliberately left latent in the design dynamic – all these are components in the code of the “car-aristocrat” which lives by its own rules.
It isn’t difficult to see that the Heart of Malta is built and shaped on the same principles of cultural reference points, where the nostalgic silhouette of the natural arch that was destroyed by the sea shines through the contemporary form, creating a dramatic subtext. This subtext transforms the shining steel silhouette into a direct challenge to time and nature, a declaration of intent to never submit to external circumstances, regardless of the fact that the outside world has changed irrevocably. This approach to design, entirely devoid of the kind of post-modern irony in its references which belongs to designs from the age of Michael Graves, also reveals the full seriousness of the “new aristocratism”, and a new interpretation of the concept of individuality. In this way, in its use of these cultural codes, it is possible to discern a certain structural affinity between the aesthetic of the Heart of Malta and that of Rolls-Royce.
Interview by Daria Kalinina.
The Heart of Malta: Interview with architect Svetozar Andreev,
supported by Rolls-Royce Motor Cars St Petersburg. English version.
Сopyright © Svetozar Andreev, 1997-2019. All rights reserved.
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