The building of Palazzo Spinola dates back to the early years of Valletta’s construction. This is indicated by the engraving in Valletta by Francesco Villamena dated 1602 which marks the building as the ‘Casa del Ballio Cagnolo.’ Shortly afterwards the house belonged to Fra Giovanni de Villaroel, Bali of Nouveville, who is known to have been administered the palace by the Prior of St. John’s Conventual Church and rented out to third parties.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Testaferrata family divided Palazzo Spinola into three parts, developing one part into an apartment block. In recent years the two remaining sections, both still referred to as Palazzo Spinola, one accessed from Kingsway and the other from Frederick Street, went onto become premises for Lombard Bank and the residence of the late Judge Edgardo Magri respectively. The latter part was acquired by Lombard Bank around 2004 when Architects Paul Camilleri & Associates were appointed by Lombard Bank to oversee the restoration project.
Proposal Aims & Objectives
The proposed interventions aim at restoring the architectural features pertaining to the original palace by reversing the below mentioned alterations and embellishments that took place to the original palace at the end of the nineteenth century.
Minor changes to the ground, intermediate and first floor levels were carried out in order to provide for a passenger lift, staircase and a wheelchair platform so to ensure that the newly restored building complies with access for all regulations and guidelines. The new core staircase was constructed out of steel to be read as a contemporary addition and moreover to allow easy removal with little consequence to the original fabric should it need to be replaced. The old spiral staircase (garigor), was also restored. Certain door lintels and columns also needed replacing to ensure the building would be structurally sound.
The need for extra office space required that an additional floor be built which would replace the roof room which was in disrepair and of no historical importance. The new elevation respected the same surface to void ratio as that of the lower floors and made use of similar limestone courses as the rest of the palazzo. Hence it would read as a neutral edition which complements the older levels below without distracting from the building’s original proportions. This level was recessed from the courtyard so that the user would still read the overlooking portico as originally built when at ground level.
Requirements dictated that the courtyard be used for social events throughout the year and therefore needed to be roofed over. A space frame structure clad in glass was adopted being regarded as the ideal solution. The relatively lightweight and unobtrusive structure allows light to enter in much the same way as before but provides an enclosure which shelters from rain and reduces energy loss from the building providing a more sustainable internal environment.
It also became clear that the portico separating the cloister from the main entrance was a very recent addition and impinged on the whole experience of walking through a hallway dominated by arches and vaults. Thus the portico was relocated to the centre of the courtyard’s dividing party wall. This decision was justifiable for the following reasons:
- The legibility of the extremely rare quadripartite vaults was greatly enhanced.
- The experience of entering the palace through the barrel-vaulted vestibule was greatly increased.
- Memory of the portico will still be visible on the contemporary party wall, and this in turn helped reduce the starkness of the wall.