The Barrakka Lift

The Barrakka Lift

AP Valletta
Lascaris Ditch, Valletta, Malta
Project Year
Sean Mallia

The Barrakka Lift

AP Valletta as Architects

The need for a vertical link between the harbour and the city is not something new. Built in 1905 The Barrakka Lift efficiently transported the activity generated by the Grand Harbour to Malta’s Capital, Valletta. Becoming a symbol of Malta’s adoption of modernity, the lift remained operational for almost seventy years. Becoming redundant as the prosperity of the Grand Harbour dwindled.

The emergence of new activities within the Harbour, spearheaded by Malta’s increasing popularity as a cruise liner destination, signalled the reversal of decline. The arrival of thousands of tourists has reactivated the need for an efficient solution to transport pedestrians from the harbour to the City above. This, coupled with the desire to make the Harbour a popular leisure destination for the local population was the primary objective behind the rival of The Barrakka Lift.

The design of the lift took into consideration a number of factors; pedestrian flow between the Grand Harbour and Valletta; the context of its historical surroundings; the user experience – from the horizontal movement through Lascaris Ditch, vertically through the two lifts with views of the bastions and the Harbour, to the arrival in Upper Barrakka Gardens; and the analysis of a system that would be completely reversible and respectful of the UNESCO World Heritage site.

Its shape and form relates to the outline of the fortifications of Valletta, its height and proportions relate to those of the classical Doric column. The vertical components suggests the threshold they sit in; the lift-tower wrapped in an anodised aluminium mesh reflects the industrial heritage of the Grand Harbour; the stair-structure is built out of stone and concrete, blending with the limestone bastions.

The varied translucencies of the mesh plays between the solid and open parts of the structure, manipulating light and shadow producing the veil-like quality of skin. Its mild bronze colour, and subtle reflective properties allows for a delicate change in colour depending on the intensity and angle of the sun. The metallic mesh, a token psychological link to the steel of the old, conjures historic visions of future, typical of writers such as Jules Verne – a contemporary with the old lift.

The Barrakka Lift is as much a part of its own past as it is of its present.

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