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  1. ArchDaily
  2. Projects
  3. Theater
  4. Malta
  5. Renzo Piano Building Workshop
  6. 2015
  7. Valletta City Gate / Renzo Piano Building Workshop

Valletta City Gate / Renzo Piano Building Workshop

  • 04:00 - 20 May, 2015
Valletta City Gate / Renzo Piano Building Workshop
Valletta City Gate  / Renzo Piano Building Workshop, © Michel Denancé
© Michel Denancé

© Michel Denancé © Michel Denancé © Michel Denancé © Michel Denancé +17

  • Collaborator

    Architecture Project (Valletta)
  • Design Team

    D.Franceschin, P.Colonna, P.Pires da Fonte, S.Giorgio-Marrano, N.Baniahmad, A.Boucsein, J.Da Nova, T.Gantner, N.Delevaux, N. Byrelid, R.Tse, B.Alves de Campos, J.LaBoskey, A.Panchasara, A.Thompson; S.Moreau
  • Models

    O. Aubert, C.Colson, Y.Kyrkos
  • Acoustics, Civil, Structural and MEP engineering

  • Stone Consultant

    Kevin Ramsey
  • Theatre Consultant

    Daniele Abbado
  • Lighting

    Franck Franjou
  • Landscaping

    Studio Giorgetta
  • Theatre Special Equipment

  • More SpecsLess Specs
© Michel Denancé
© Michel Denancé

From the architect. The ‘City Gate’ project takes in the complete reorganisation of the principal entrance to the Maltese capital of Valletta. The project comprises four parts: the Valletta City Gate and its site immediately outside the city walls, the design for an open-air theatre ‘machine’ within the ruins of the former Royal opera house, the construction of a new Parliament building and the landscaping of the ditch.

Master Plan
Master Plan

The gate, the ditch and the city walls.

A bridge’s width is usually defined in relation to its length. However, the bridge leading across the ditch to the Valletta City Gate had been repeatedly enlarged over time until it had lost both its initial shape and function, becoming more city square than bridge.

© Michel Denancé
© Michel Denancé

With the aim of resolving this rather unsatisfactory transformation, the project focuses on returning the bridge to its 1633 ‘Dingli’s Gate’ dimensions, by demolishing later additions. This allows passers-by to once again have the sensation of crossing a real bridge, and gives them views of the ditch and fortifications.

© Michel Denancé
© Michel Denancé

Valletta’s first city gate, which was probably a single tunnel through the city’s ramparts, has been remodelled through the years, considerably altering the image of a fortified city gate. The most recent modification, completed 50 years ago, involved demolishing 32m of the city wall, distorting the impact of the entrance into the city.

© Michel Denancé
© Michel Denancé

The first objective of the project was therefore to reinstate the ramparts’ original feeling of depth and strength and to reinforce the narrowness of the entrance to the city, while opening up views of Republic Street. The new city gate is a ‘breach’ in the wall only 8m wide. The relationship between the original fortifications and those that have been reconstructed is made clear by the insertion of powerful 60mm-thick steel ‘blades’ that slice through the wall between old and new.

© Michel Denancé
© Michel Denancé

The key element of this redevelopment was opening the gate to the sky. The section of Pope Pius V Street that formerly ran immediately inside the gate at a raised level has been demolished and replaced by two wide, gently sloping flights of steps to each side of the new gate, inspired by the stairs that had framed the gate before the construction of Freedom Square. These stairs link the bastions of St James’s Cavalier and St John’s Cavalier to the lower level Republic Street. This rearrangement frees the fortifications from the arcade that formerly obscured them, allowing them to be seen to their full height and power.

© Michel Denancé
© Michel Denancé

The gate and the ditch will be linked by a stairway and a lift with panoramic views, allowing visitors to descend to the depths of the ditch, now planted with gardens. The car park that formerly occupied the ditch has been replaced by lush, refreshing gardens – an ideal place for a stroll or relaxation, a very pleasant new space to explore. Open-air events can also be organised here against the historical backdrop.

© Michel Denancé
© Michel Denancé

The architecture of the new city gate is very restrained, giving an impression of strength and austerity, stripped of extraneous decoration that would undermine its timeless, honest quality. Its tapered shape and the two great steel poles, each 25m high, are enough to lend this breach in the wall the status of the Valletta City Gate.

The gateway is made of immense blocks of stone, delimited and framed by the tall steel ‘blades’ that are used to highlight the junction of old and new – steel and stone in a dialogue of nature, strength and history. A new ‘hard stone’ quarry on Gozo was opened up specifically to provide stone for this project.

© Michel Denancé
© Michel Denancé

The Parliament, an environmentally responsible building

The parliament building is made up of two massive blocks in stone that are balanced on slender columns to give the building a sense of lightness, the whole respecting the line of the existing street layout. The northernmost block is principally given over to the parliament chamber, while the south block accommodates members of parliament’s offices and the offices of the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition.

© Michel Denancé
© Michel Denancé

Creating a porous urban block was at the forefront of the building’s volumetric design. The two blocks are separated by a central courtyard, which also serves as the main entrance to the building. The courtyard is conceived in such a way that views through to St James’s Cavalier from Republic Street are not obscured. The new parliament building is detached from the St James’s Cavalier bastion, highlighting the latter’s structure and historic size as part of the city’s fortifications.

West Elevation
West Elevation

The parliament’s facades are finished in solid stone. This stone has been sculpted as though eroded by the direction of the sun and the views around it, creating a fully functional device that filters solar radiation while allowing natural daylight inside, all the while maintaining views from the building. Each of these blocks of facade has been sculpted by a numerically controlled machine. The result is a stone architecture that is fitting for its historic context but also the product of cutting-edge technology.

© Michel Denancé
© Michel Denancé

Generally it is the density and dynamism of a building’s ground floor that brings it to life, driving a hive of activity in the rest of the building; this is how the ground floor was conceived here, as a flexible cultural space, fully fitted out with a full range of multimedia services.  It is an ideal space for temporary or permanent exhibitions, all fully visible from outside the building, serving as a sort of cultural outpost at the entrance to Valletta.


Certain organisations and parliament-related activities will be housed on the building’s basement level, which opens onto a planted, shaded courtyard. The old Malta railway tunnel is also connected to this lower level garden space, restoring the old underground structure that had been used as a garage, and making it accessible to the public.

© Michel Denancé
© Michel Denancé

Energy use and environmental considerations are principal components in the design of this building. On the one hand, stone is used for the building’s facade to diminish solar heat gain and to allow natural ventilation. Stone is also effective as part of the building’s geothermal heat exchanger, with 40 geothermal boreholes sunk into rock to depths of 140m, 100m below sea-level.

© Michel Denancé
© Michel Denancé

In addition, the roof is covered with 600 sq m of photovoltaic panels – an ambitious energy strategy that allows the building to generate 80% of the energy required to heat it in the winter and 60% of its requirements to cool it in the summer months.

Location to be used only as a reference. It could indicate city/country but not exact address. Cite: "Valletta City Gate / Renzo Piano Building Workshop" 20 May 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <>
Read comments


Jessica Smith · July 24, 2015

Its simply a pigeon loft on stilts or as some have called it, a giant cheese grater.

Maybe the tourists should bring their cheese to grate it when they visit Valletta.

The open theatre is a disaster, unable to be used during summer due to the many feasts and useless in winter with the rain and wind.

The gash in the walls of a fortified city is also an idiotic idea as it is an invitation to an enemy laying siege to the city to enter at will. Would anyone with the least bit of common sense and not wanting to destroy the thinking behind a fortified city make a gash in its walls?

The whole project is a total disgrace and was only made for the ex-Prime Minister Lawrence Gonezi vainglory to be remembered as the one who had built the Parliament but he will long be remembered as the one who squandered some 130 million from otu taxes.

He will also be remembered as the Prime Minister who caused Malta to be the only country in the world that has to lease its parliament from a private company because for the country deficit not to be seen to have exceeded the EU levels, it was arranged that a company.will be formed that will be leasing the Pigeon loft/giant cheese grated tot he Government to use as a Parliament.

It must also be remembered that Renzo Piano was not selected from an international call for a design, but was hand picked by Gonezi himself.

Shame on Renzo Piano who ruined our Capital City with his design and for accepting the project without having an international contest for designs.

As for the photos, apart from photoshopping, as Victor Laiviera said, putty and paint makes the devil a saint, while our Maltese version is "ħorrox borrox u ż-żebgħa tgħatti kollox".

Money speaks louder than words.

mike turner · August 04, 2015 01:50 PM

This is a blight on the lovely city of Valletta. It has been constructed as an "egoarchitectural" monstrosity. It could have been a success in completely different setting. Too many architects pay no attention to surrounds. At least you gave the poor Maltese the names of all the morons involved. Yes I have lived in Malta for 20 years

Victor Laiviera · May 21, 2015

It is said that "putty and paint can make the devil look like a saint". The same can be said for clever photography and hype.

The project is a monstrosity and an eyesore, completely out of scale and out of place. It is universally hated, except by a few who pretend to like it for political reasons.

Clive Zammit · May 21, 2015 08:56 AM

Mr Laiviera, You are of course entitled to your opinion, but if you should care to read the above comments you would realise that your view of the universe may be very skewed. Many Maltese people I know with different political leanings regard this project as a masterpiece which confirms Malta's place on the global map of architectural excellence. So please do not attribute your hate to this project to one and all.

Leonard Lombardo · May 20, 2015

most people say that the new parliament is like a cheese grater after reading this they should know better, perhaps going to the new depaul university will help them become literate

Rhodgers · May 20, 2015

Fantastic! While I admire the ambition of creating openings without disrupting the reading of the building as a continuation of the surrounding ramparts, I feel it falls just short and instead makes me think more of some sort of skin disorder with its many tiny extrusions. Love the overall composition of mass, the balance created by the thin steel insertions in the stone, and the beautiful sandstone itself. But, as I said, the articulation of the erosions giving way to the glass are my only reservation. Otherwise a very likeable project.

Burrlamb · May 20, 2015

One of Piano's best projects that i've seen lately. Very nice.

Carlos Camillos · May 20, 2015 04:40 PM

Kapulavur The best ever of piano's projects.

Taneli000 · May 20, 2015

The Opera House should be rebuilt or developped.

Angus Black · May 20, 2015 01:12 PM

Agree! Muscat should seriously think of relocating the Monti suk within the hallowed ruins of the opera house which was bombed seventy odd years ago. At least bras and panties fluttering in the breeze will not be the main attraction side by side the Parliament building!
Good idea you came up with Taneli000. 000 marks for effort!

k. pace · May 20, 2015 12:10 PM

Looks like you have no idea what you are talking about.


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