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The Restoration Project

The first phase of major restoration and civil works carried out at the ex-Naval Bakery was indeed a critical achievement for Heritage Malta’s project for a new Maritime Museum. Co-Financed through the EEA Norway Grants 2014-2021, this phase saw the restoration, reconstruction and rehabilitation of dilapidated war-damaged silos and adjacent areas at the back of the building, repair of the old ‘Arsenale’ quarters, and the reconstruction of dangerous roofs at the upper levels. The works in these areas shall enable the repurposing of the entire building into a contemporary and state-of-the-art museum complex, including all visitor amenities, administration, reserve collection, apart from interactive and immersive exhibition halls.

The complex civil and restoration works included the reconstruction of a (replica) vaulted masonry structure which was part of the original building that had been torn down by the British at the turn of the 20th century in order to make way for more silo storage. Scaffolds and arched-steel temporary formwork allowed the beginning of the transformation of a once-open volume at three levels to be re-roofed into separate levels by using traditional masonry vaulted structures that were inherent to the original building.

Another radical intervention was the removal of some architecturally insensitive conversion interventions done in the 1970s. One of these was the concrete clad main staircase. This was removed, (whilst leaving traces for future interpretation) and the building volume reinstated. The original masonry staircase at the lower levels that had been lost in this process, was replicated and reconstructed.

The most imposing restorative intervention was nevertheless the volume of the large silo and the way this was addressed. From an abandoned and dangerously dilapidated space lying in a state of disrepair for decades, with collapsing roofs, to major restorative interventions. These interventions saw the remnants of the original steel silo supporting structure reinstated and all the surviving and salvageable concrete parts of the silo structure carefully restored. The engineering challenge was the installation of a reversible large hanging steel structure that supports the upper 2 floors at first and second floor level. This was achieved by directly suspending these floors off a series of large steel beams just below the newly reconstructed roof and thus allowing four levels of floor space to be recouped within the same volume.

The remains of the area known as the ‘Arsenale’ were in a serious state of dilapidation and the restorative interventions to the floors and walls exposed the specialised restoration team of experts to practically all aspects one could encounter for the restoration and conservation of masonry buildings in very poor
condition …and all in one space! The area was restored to its original beauty and the masonry vaulted roofs at the upper level overlooking the rear street were reconstructed back to the original building stereotomy. The adjacent space originally used as corn stores were likewise reinstated and the large internal building height exploited by introduction of a reversible mezzanine structure accessible from the road on the rear.

The internal courtyard that had been lost when it was built and roofed over at different levels up to roof level, was painstakingly dismantled stone by stone and concrete elements sectioned off and carefully lifted out of the area. Another masonry engineering challenge was the returning of the imposing and majestic masonry balcony circulating the internal courtyard, resting on large corbels and that had been lost when the aforementioned courtyard was built up. This was reconstructed back to its former splendour. The same treatment was reserved for the adjacent volumes and spaces at ground floor and that now complement the newly restored rear quarters of the ex-Bakery building.

The large hall at second floor level was also part of the project and the timber roof and stone slab were very close to the end of their safe serviceable life. A decision to install a new timber beam roofing structure was made, whilst keeping the same language and stereotomy of the original natural timber beams and stone slabs. The roofs were then finished to modern energy efficient standards including insulation and appropriate waterproofing methods that allowed the exploitation of the external roof surface, previously an inaccessible and dangerous space.

It was only thanks to the Norwegian funds that these works could be initiated and today the building stands structurally proud of its origins. The snowballing effect of these funds that indeed projected a new image for the Maritime Museum prompted the Government to dedicate additional funds to ensure that in the coming years, the holistic experience of the Museum experience will reach the standards of the world’s finest in this segment.

Kevin Abela
Senior Manager Projects