Renzo Piano's "Narcissistic" Design for Malta's Parliament Is Jeopardized by Local Politics

Renzo Piano's "Narcissistic" Design for Malta's Parliament Is Jeopardized by Local Politics
Malta's City Gate
(Courtesy Un papero via Flickr)

It was easy to foresee the public outcry when architect Renzo Piano was taken up to develop Malta's City Gate, the ancient entrance to capital city Valleta. The site of the project is an architectural palimpsest sprinkled with Greek and Roman ruins and medieval flourishes. Meanwhile, Piano's extensive portfolio does little to hide his flair for homogenizing contemporary design. As usual, controversy begets more controversy, and as Piano's master plan, which includes a new parliament building, began to take form over the past few weeks, a heated debate ensued over the financial model to support the €80 million ($106 million) endeavor. Members of the opposition party claim that the finance company set up explicitly to fund the project, a "special purpose vehicle" called Malita, will sap revenue intended for the state in order to fund what they deemed to be a "narcissistic" venture, as the Times of Malta reports.

Under the current model, all income from private lease payments and land concessions for Valletta's airport and cruise terminal will be channeled towards building Piano's vision. Finance Minister Tonio Fenech outlined the legality of these terms according to EU regulations and also defensively pointed to the €40 million ($53 million) loan issued from the European Investment Bank to Malita. According to the current plan, the investment will be entirely recouped by leasing City Gate's newly designed facilities back to the government for €5 million ($7 million) a year.

Undeterred, opposition party leader Joseph Muscat is pushing to bring the issue to a vote in Parliament as soon as possible. "While we are not against the concept of a special purpose vehicle to finance certain projects, the creation of one for the City Gate project did not make sense," he said in the Times. Though the general consensus is that large scale renovation is needed in the area, there is clearly concern that the imperative has become an excuse to leave an extortionate legacy for Malta's Prime Minister, an ancient Roman forum of sorts, disguised in Piano's banal touches.