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Publication in HOMEWORKS ISSUE 61

The ease of movement throughout the apartment is highlighted by the three partially hidden access points to the central box. When open, these points afford views throughout the entire apartment. Here, the living room looks on to the bedroom, and then further, the entrance courtyard. Glass vase, white steel, and timber top side board from One Two One Interiors; folding table with removable tray and small patterned cushion from Retroforma

A variety of dining and occasional seating, which can transform into a guest bedroom when needed. The customised white cabinetry offers storage space and minimise clutter. Coffee table from One Two One Interiors

View on to the old ‘Biċċerija’ (abattoir), which is a striking contrast from within the minimalism of the apartment

View upon entrance, which runs along the side of the box, past the kitchen. To create ventilation and light balance, the rear windows were converted into doors

Although the architect designed the kitchen predominantly in white, the beech top and backsplash softens the hard architectural lines and adds warmth

This St. Dominic Street apartment is the response to the seemingly simple brief: a flexible space for a single man that visits Malta frequently, allowing for both privacy and entertainment space. In a single floor apartment measuring fewer than 50 square metres in total, this request takes on a greater complexity. The architect’s reaction to the brief was to create a space that was as open as possible when the homeowner was in it alone, but which could then break down to create privacy for the accommodation of guests.

Forming part of an old apartment block with a central courtyard, the original layout kept the space dark and poorly partitioned. The building was formerly a retreat for some priests from Gozo, which is why the apartments were broken up into such small units. Architect Simon Grech at MODEL (ex-Grech & Vinci), “That’s what’s interesting about the space, though – that it’s small and humble. We tried to keep the spirit of that.”

The first step was to remove all of the interior partition walls. The architects wanted to delineate the space by using an offset glass and steel box containing the bedroom and ensuite shower room. As a result, the remaining space was largely self-defining.

The entrance was reorganised so that the visitor comes in from one end and travels in, reminiscent of a snail shell.

South-west facing bedroom, which means its bathed in natural light all day long. Here, inside the box, the sense of temporary movement is highlighted. Even the customised open wardrobe hints at a lack of permanence. Bed linen and throws from One Two One Interiors; dhurrie from The Studio Collection at The Rug Company

As the vortex goes round and the centre is approached, areas can be shut and broken off, eventually reaching the centre – the private sleeping zone.

Somewhat inspired by Jean Nouvel’s Lumieres kitchen, in which ‘surfaces engage in original dialogues in light’, the fact that shadows can be seen behind the glass box indicates simultaneous movement and privacy. “For instance, when someone is showering, you get this movement and can still see the human figure, which is interesting.”

Upon entering the apartment, a glimpse in the space between the glass and the kitchen wall offers a partial view onto the dining area beyond. Walking towards this dining area and rounding the corner of the box, the dining and living areas are revealed. In an effort to provide further privacy – to accommodate guests for instance – there is a concertina door that can span the entire space dividing it into two rooms. This, along with the changing container of the glass box, is another indication that this is a space that lacks permanence, in which things can transform. The space is not static, but rather adapts to the needs of the moment.

Another feature that highlights the ease of movement throughout the apartment are the three partially hidden access points to the central box. When open, these points afford views throughout the entire apartment and minimise repetitive movement.

Originally, the entrance balcony held louvered windows, while the rear held translucent windows. In order to create cross ventilation across the entire apartment (yet still maintain privacy), the windows were transformed into doors to the rear and the front of the apartment. The translucent box acts as a privacy barrier so that not all is revealed upon entrance when open.

If the sun is coming from the back, or the light is coming from the courtyard, the box lights up. The muted light from the courtyard side, and the strong sunlight from the rear come together to create a balance of light. At night, everything reverses and the centre of the box illuminates from within, which can also change colour according to mood.

The material palette was humble and customised, with glass, steel and wood. Plain local cement tiles in black and white were used for flooring, whilst the glass box and custom fixed furniture elements were manufactured in steel and painted with a white finish. The hints of wood throughout bring in a sense of warmth (the standard marine plywood in the bedroom and on vanities, as well as the kitchen Beech wood).

“Pierre Chareau’s Maison de Verre (which was also designed for a doctor) was something of a starting point for us. The homeowner’s profession and culture definitely made a difference to how we designed for him. The doctor side of him implied cleanliness and organisation, while the Dutch side implicated an openness to space. The Maltese like to be contained and private, whereas the Dutch’s understanding of space is different – they’re far more open to being overt. Even the clothes rail in the bedroom is exposed, which would be odd for a Maltese person.”

The space is a complete contrast to the building’s surroundings and what’s presently there. Inside a swirl of old and dilapidated, here lies this sparkling vortex of space; organised and minimal. The architects have managed to create a tremendously light-balanced, ever-moving and interesting space in under 50 square metres.

Simon concludes, “We’re quite interested in small places and how we can make the most out of them – this is where architectural challenge truly lies.”

Originally, the entrance balcony held louvered windows, which have been converted into doors.

The space is a complete contrast to the building’s surroundings and what’s presently there. Aloe Vera and ferns by Sherries

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