As the threat of invasion faded, so was Valletta transformed in tune with the changing role the Knights played in the Mediterranean. The whole city reinvented itself. The walls themselves also contributed to this transformation. Handed over to civic use, they were converted into gardens and places of leisure for the enjoyment of the residents of the town. St Barbara Bastion meanwhile got integrated into the well-developed street pattern of the 17th-century town.The project brief called for the complete restoration of the St Barbara Bastion property and its conversion into two main levels of offices with an apartment above. Planning restrictions dictated the provision of two sets of stairs and a lift to provide separate access to the apartment from that to the offices. This placed considerable pressure on the limited space behind the harbour façade, which however is the most valuable portion of the property. Naturally, the brief requested as much office space opening onto the harbour views as possible.
To avoid excessive circulation space, the solution sought was to superimpose the two staircases, looking to precedents such as the 16th-century double-helix staircase at Chateau Chambord on the Loire where the staircase permitted the regent to circulate through his property without encountering his servants or guests.In the somewhat more restricted confines of the property on St Barbara Bastion, a common first flight of stairs leads from the entrance and reception up to a landing above the third-party wine vaults. The route then splits into two; each staircasefollows the other at the lower levels, with the residential stair then proceeding to the apartment above and onward to a ‘secret’ chamber tucked in below the roof.
The twisting stair structure is fully draped in a thin dark walnut cladding, the residential stair enclosed as it transits the volume occupied by the offices, but opening to the space as it climbs towards the roof. The staircase is a moment of spatial transition and orientation from the harsh, hot outdoors through the dimly lit circulation space and up to the well-lit apartment at roof level, and as was the case at Chambord, the residents of the apartment access their floor without disturbance from the office workers, yet at the same time are permitted glimpses of the spaces below, and because the stairs are less brightly illuminated than the surrounding rooms, they may look out without being seen.In the penthouse apartment within the new roof level extension, a large living space on the front opens.
Alberto Miceli-Farrugia & Monica Daza at Architecture Project