A look at the Architectural Firms Nominated for EU Mies Award: Valentino Architects

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Article Number Two of our series featuring local architecture firms has arrived! We’re dedicating these articles to firms who’ve won awards or other accolades for their work! The objective behind these articles is simple: To give attention to architecture firms who’ve had the opportunity to flex their creative muscles and went on to deliver great work.

In our first feature, we showcased the Farsons Corporate Office by TBA Periti which won the Civil Engineering Excellence Award, this time around, we’re featuring the renovation of an office that is home to another easily recognisable brand in Malta – the offices of eCabs in St Julians!

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Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.

Gottlieb Eliel Saarinen (who penned the line above) was a Finnish architect known for his work with art nouveau buildings in the early years of the 20th century. This article will say no more about him, but it will be directing you to a firm that we (the writers at House Malta!) feel pay special attention to making sure that the buildings they design are sensitive to their surroundings and larger context, Valentino Architects.

You might know of this architecture firm from a picture or two of their work which we have shared onto our Instagram. It’s not that we have a bias – it’s that they design interiors like this.

In this article, we’re focusing on the renovation of the eCabs Booking Office by Valentino Architects, a project which won the Interior Spaces Award last year and was then nominated by Il-Kamra Tal-Periti for the prestigious EU Mies Award.

The European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award is granted every two years to acknowledge and reward quality architectural production in Europe.

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Photos used in this article were taken by Alex Attard.

What would winning the EU Mies Award mean for you?

We were nominated for the EU Mies van der Rohe Award by the Kamra tal-Periti – it is very rewarding to be recognized at this level by your peers in the local architectural community, as is seeing Valentino Architects establish itself within that community. The EU Mies van der Rohe Award is granted every two years to acknowledge and reward quality architecture in Europe – other European Architecture firms were likewise nominated through their local authority, and just being a member of this group of nominees is a great honour for us.

What is your design philosophy, and how did you apply it to your project with eCabs

We like to move away from applying a specific aesthetic to projects, but rather, assess the project requirements on a case-by-case basis to be able to adopt the right approach. The eCabs project was particular as it needed a strong aesthetic to reflect the company’s ethos – a growing cab company that has established itself as a market leader – however at the same time, the space needed to serve a specific function, which had to be placed at the forefront of the design.

The whole fit-out was cut from a single block of grey terrazzo, the colour and composition of which were designed specifically for this project by Helmann. They were really excited about the project because this material is generally used in tile format, and this gave them the chance to produce it differently and really show off what they can do. They cast three blocks in total for this project, pressed them for three weeks and cut them to size once the press was removed.

A wooden iroko bench runs the length of the wall to which it is attached, and is the only element made of another material, providing a warm accent that sets off the understated, yet refined, monochrome space.

What challenges did you face?

We were presented with a site of very limited space – circa 3.5 x 7m – which needed to serve an intense volume of people in search of booking a cab after their night out in Paceville, and at the same time stand out from the surrounding chaos in the street to become an elegant beacon. The booking office is also open 24hours a day, therefore simple issues such as cleaning needed to be addressed as an inherent part of the design, so as not to impede operation.

To understand what the office really needed, the architects paid visits to the booking office.

In an article in the Commercial Courier, Sandro, one of the two brothers who head Valentino architects, explains that they visited the booking office on weekends to get a first-hand experience of what challenges the space meets (or needs to): “Friday and Saturday nights, it was like a jungle: drunk people asleep outside, a broken glass door and discarded food. A big part of our brief was considering how to control everything that was happening. As a company, eCABS is all about efficiency, and for the booking office, function and durability had to take priority.” For a closer read of this article, click here.

What do you believe sets your firm apart in your approach to projects like this?

We believe the approach to all projects is what makes a project successful. Of course, aesthetic is very important – the project needs to look good and portray the right ethos for the client – but deeper than that, quality architecture seeks to provide innovative solutions to problems presented by both function and context.

To maximise the amount of shelter the building can offer to people awaiting cabs, Valentino Architects built a canopy which extends from the facade of the eCabs building, and, at the same time, moved the glass doors inwards. Elevaating accessibility was likewise key: A ramp replaced the previous step, making the office fully accessible, and a partition at the back creates access to the toilet and basement.

Did you run into any conflicts with your client – in this case, eCabs?

We initially proposed stools instead of a bench – this was the only thing the client asked to change from our original design. It turned out to be a very good contribution, as it looks great aesthetically and is more coherent with the quality of the space that we wanted to achieve. Part of the success of this project is that we had a client which trusted us but gave input when input was needed.

What would you say are the main distinctive features of the eCabs headquarters new design?

The use of curves rather than corners – a feature that is as practical as it is attractive. You don’t have a corner where dirt can collect – you just hose it down and it all goes straight down into the gutters at the door. As for the entrance, the broken glass door was replaced with a specifically designed glass door that opens automatically and slides away into pockets concealed in the wall. This will prevent it from suffering the same fate when things get busy at night.

Like many of us, Valentino Architects saw that Paceville is a place where some chaos and disorder frequently gets the upper hand, but they also understood that it is exactly why people go there. In this context, the role of the many workers that run and drive the fleet at eCabs is to work as an elegant, efficient organism, promising to revelers done with their escape a safe, tranquil return to their homes.


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