A Printed Thing

Valetta-based studio Architecture Project celebrates their 20 years of practice with an ambitious monograph that does not correspond to any literature category, encompassing the old and new of Maltese culture in a nutshell.

Various authors, A Printed Thing, AP & Jon Banthorpe, Progress Press, Malta 2012 (pp. 159; € 20.00)

 

Unlike the many other professions that nurture the world’s economy, only the practicing architect is licensed by default to turn his dreams into matter. These solid dreams are pinned to our reality, appearing immutable to the end user and passerby, but short lived to its creator — when stark white walls are ultimately smeared with colour, or the slick glazing is fuzzed with drapery.

 

Yet, no one dares to tweak a painting — or A Printed Thing. The Valetta-based studio of Architecture Project (AP) resorts to the printing press to celebrate their 20 years of practice. This leap produced a panoptic monograph, hard to define and ambiguous enough to deserve the title A Printed Thing. The book is driven by the “old and new” as a common theme throughout, alluding to the modern interventions that AP ably carries out in old buildings and which have by far established the firm’s competence.  A classical hardback cases this volume of glossy images and blue tinted text, treating us to a hybrid of classical and contemporary printing styles.  Early 20th century andscape paintings of Malta by Italian artist Vittorio Boron are printed in a postcard format and slipped into the monograph with a twist, manipulated by Rory Apap Brown who replaces the local skyline with type and prose.

A Printed Thing
The cover of A Printed Thing , AP & Jon Banthorpe, Malta 2012
The content of the book compliments its unorthodox aesthetics. Instead of presetting the content, AP takes the plunge and counts on the authors’ creative flair; an experiment which turns out to include such diverse content as a letter to grandma, ghost chronicles, the depiction of a Jane Austen shopping spree at Marks and Spencer, and the first libretto for a Maltese Opera. The monograph is divided in ten chapters penned by local and foreign contributors of different backgrounds and expression, doing away with any heavy post-editing. Despite AP’s impressive list of works, A Printed Thing shies away from explaining and glorifying the firm’s architecture. Its content is rooted deep into Malta’s capital city, Valletta, and its nearby surroundings; the city which houses their premises and most of their works.
A Printed Thing
Back cover of A Printed Thing , AP & Jon Banthorpe, Malta 2012
The first chapter is titled Columbidae , alluding in its title to slash pigeons — slash pests that have caused a great deal of chaos with their presence in the capital since the construction of the new parliament by Renzo Piano. Author Bettina Hutschek borrows their nuisance to reach out to her grandmother, and writes about this fortified city, which her grandma has never visited. Hutschek writes romantically,  with eloquent descriptions that can only be expressed under the influence of Valletta’s enchantment. She challenges the common perception that “the city is dead” after sunset, revealing all sorts of happenings during after hours.
A Printed Thing
Page detail from A Printed Thing , AP & Jon Banthorpe, Malta 2012
Images of the AP’s portfolio start to reveal themselves further ahead, halfway through a narrative by social scientist Mark-Anthony Falzon. This chapter is driven by the Italian proverb “la casa nasconde ma non ruba”, and expands on how the house has the perfect set up for hiding our possessions and succeeds in failing us every time we try to locate them. Random snapshots of the nooks and crannies of AP’s offices tie in with this piece, disclosing rather intimate characteristics of what it feels like to be part of their team.
A Printed Thing
Page detail from A Printed Thing , AP & Jon Banthorpe, Malta 2012
The meat of the book surfaces with a rather unconventional account: author Timothy Brittain–Catlin writes about Jane Austen in the crowded streets of the capital, touching upon many layers of history, from sailors strolling past in the 1800s to the new age of facebook and iphones. This is a pretext for a detour around the city, referencing historical events and random shops from the past, whilst acquainting us with the architecture interventions carried out by AP. The firm’s works vary from fabric face lifts to retractable roofs, office interiors, urban developments and collaborations with Renzo Piano’s team for the detailing of the new open-air theatre that hovers over the ruins of the old Royal Opera House. AP’s founders are later interviewed with the intent of defining the Maltese citizen and evaluating the pros and cons of focusing their practice in the local scene. The closing chapters of the book delve into more conceptual subjects. A manifesto for Valletta takes the name of Novelletta : a utopia derived from the lessons of earth, water and sky, proposing the detachment of the peninsula from the rest of the island, among other changes. Other surprises include a chapter written in Maltese (its English translation found late on) — one of the perks of giving leeway to the contributors.
A Printed Thing
Page detail from A Printed Thing , AP & Jon Banthorpe, Malta 2012
A Printed Thing differs from its contemporaries by skilfully not corresponding to any literature category. It is not a narrative, a history book or prose abstract. It is the old and new of Maltese culture in a nutshell. Lyanne Mifsud
A Printed Thing
Page detail from A Printed Thing , AP & Jon Banthorpe, Malta 2012

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