Land of the Ugly?

When one thinks of architecture in Malta, one thinks of buildings built by the Knights of St. John such as the Auberge de Castille in its style of Spanish Baroque, or perhaps a street with traditional Maltese balconies, or even old cities like Mdina with its fortifications. But the reality is that we are drowning in a sea of concrete and soulless buildings.

We would rather build to maximise profit than to maximise beauty. For tourists, this means the flushing away of the traditional Maltese character which they come to see, and for the locals, it means waking up and seeing a ten-storey block of apartments blocking a view they once had.

One might ask, well if the economy grows why bother about things like beauty? Does beauty matter? The short answer is yes, beauty matters. It is not just a subjective thing but a universal need of human beings. If we continue ignoring the uglification of our country we will find ourselves inhabiting a spiritual desert. If you were to ask what the point of beauty is to an 18th and 19th century educated person, they would have told you that beauty is a value as important as truth and goodness. The architecture (if you can even call it that) we are seeing rising every day on our island, is soulless and sterile. They have no values other than utilitarian ones – something has a value if it has a use, so what`s the use of beauty? Our increasingly consumerist society puts usefulness first and beauty is no better than a side effect.

Ornaments set us free from mere function, and satisfy our need for harmony. In a way, they make us feel at home and remind us that we have more than practical needs. We are not just governed by animal appetites but have spiritual and moral needs too, and if those needs go unsatisfied, so do we.

Just look at the contrast between Valletta and Sliema from the middle of the harbour. On the one hand, you see the great dome of the Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, one of our most iconic sights, which we even put on postcards and commercials. Now take a look at the opposite side, you don`t see an ordered and aesthetically pleasing sight. What you see is a cheap knockoff of a Dubai, nothing but never-ending concrete monsters climbing on top of each other and devouring everything in sight.

We should consider ourselves lucky to be building on the achievements of our ancestors, and the important thing now is to maintain them and not throw them away. They give us a sense of belonging, an identity that is endemic to this area of the world only. I conclude with a quote by the English philosopher Sir Roger Scruton, “Good things are easily destroyed but not easily created.”

Written by: Jake Muscat

(This article was originally posted on civilsocietymt.com)

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