The Phoenicia Hotel is a staple in Valletta’s beloved urban-scape – its unmissable location at the mouth of the city has cemented the image of its art-deco grandeur firmly in our minds. But for many, memories of enchanted and elegant evenings spent inside it have left an even more lasting impression.
It was a favourite of the Queen of England, a temporary home to countless dignitaries, and a host to many happy couples’ most sacred moments. The Phoenicia Hotel is not just part of Malta’s architectural heritage, its part of the history of luxury on the islands. Now – after the completion of a restoration and extension scheme by one of Malta’s most prestigious architecture practices – the hotel is about to enter a new chapter in its history. Perhaps its most chic one yet.
Old school grandeur meets contemporary sophistication
In 2006 Architecture Project Valletta (AP) was asked to investigate the full development potential of the hotel’s extensive grounds. Their brief was essentially to help turn it into a maintainable and successful enterprise. The Phoenicia needed to be more profitable, so it needed more rooms – 83 more to be exact. They were also tasked with the reconstruction of the hotel’s pool area. This part of the project has now been completed.
The practice had a pretty tall order to work with – the 1930s Art Deco building itself and 16th century the fortifications that surrounded it. They were challenged with creating a contemporary experience that could naturally transition from what existed before.
Their response? To introduce a scheme that doesn’t tell a different story to the previous chapters of the hotel’s life. Their design doesn’t act as a sequel to what was before. Instead it builds upon the existing, creating a contemporary richness of its own – through restrained, subtle composition and materials.
The practice also had to counter the reality of the hotel’s surrounding fortifications having been littered with utilitarian structures over time – buildings housing laundry areas, plantrooms, garages, etc. These additions were not designed to compliment the architectural character of the existing hotel. As a result AP have seemingly made it their aim to ensure their interventions work with, and even pay homage to, what already exists.
In its paired back simplicity, the pool area has become a viewing platform for the built environment that envelops it. It restores the legibility of the hotel’s original architecture and the draws the curtain back on the greater city context.
The new pool
AP’s design for the hotel’s new pool area is remarkably quiet. Its infinity edge blurs the boundary between the pool and the sea beyond, whilst shallow steps running along the whole length of the pool create the effect of a beach at the foot of the bastions.
The area works carefully not to distort the surrounding bastions’ massive scale, and makes no attempt at stealing that focus. Instead, this sleek and seemingly simple scheme celebrates the impressive bastion walls.
The pool spans between the old walls and follows the pre-existent historic slope towards the harbour, without creating new structures that stand out and compete. In a way it’s guiding its users back to the beauty of Valletta and beyond.
A distinct kind of luxury
To anyone who knows Malta, the Phoenicia Hotel is synonymous with a sumptuous and opulent lifestyle. The hotel has played a key role in the islands’ social history throughout its existence. It’s also sneaked its way to the doorstep of the City and therefore has added its own story to the its great architectural history.
The next chapter
AP’s greatest challenge was to find a solution that combined the glamour of a 1930s hotel, with the nobility and austerity of 16th century fortifications. Their decision to create a neutral frame was central to achieving this marriage with grace and timelessness.
While we certainly can’t assume to know what the original architect – Willian Binnie – would have to say about the new design; we like what we see. The future of the Phoenicia Hotel is still unfolding, and however long it might take until we see its next phase completed, we know it will happen – as always – with great style.