Heritage Malta replies to criticism of new Visitor Centre at Hagar Qim
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Following recent media reports and the statement issued yesterday by the Malta Labour Party on the visual impact of the new Visitor Centre at Hagar Qim, Heritage Malta would like to make the following clarifications.
This project has evolved over a number of years and the plans for the building per se have been widely publicised, and there have been many opportunities for the public to participate in the consultation process namely:
1. The launch in November 2003 by the then Ministry for Youth and the Arts (MYA) in collaboration with the International Union of Architects (UIA) of the brief for an International Design Competition for Hagar Qim and Mnajdra
2. The publication by Heritage Malta of the Project Description Statement in 2004, giving full details of the project.
3. The lengthy consultation process conducted by MEPA throughout 2005.
In April 2004, an international jury awarded first prize to Architect Walter Hunziker (of Berne, Switzerland), whose designs and design philosophy are being implemented. One of the fundamental characteristics of this design is that it makes no attempt to copy the materials or forms of the megalithic remains, in order to underline the contrast between the permanence of the monuments and the ephemeral insertions of the present day.
The international jury also recommended that one building and not two, as originally proposed, should be built to house visitor services, and that this building be located in the existing car park at Hagar Qim.
Heritage Malta concurred with these recommendations, also noting that:
1. Building a Visitor Centre in the quarries would require a new access road wide enough for coaches and a new parking area. This would have presented considerable engineering difficulties and environmental concerns.
2. The duplication of access roads and parking facilities would have created a confused experience at Hagar Qim and Mnajdra.
3. Heritage Malta therefore implemented a downscaled version of the building planned for the existing car park. This site has the further advantage that, as it is already heavily disturbed, the building does not have a new material impact on the surrounding agricultural land or on the undiscovered archaeology that may lie beneath it.
Regarding the visual impact of the building, it should be emphasised that no rock-cutting is permitted on this site. Approval for some very minimal rock-cutting was obtained from the relevant authorities, in order to ensure that the building does not rise higher than the apparent horizon when observed from Hagar Qim. The final design is therefore a careful balance between physical and visual impact. The building is at its most visible when approaching the car park. To a viewer at Hagar Qim, the building has a much lower profile than the existing restaurant. As one begins to proceed towards Mnajdra, the building disappears completely from view. Another, less visible environmental impact that every building has is the carbon footprint required to operate it. The visitor centre is designed to make maximum use of natural light and to have passive climate control, ensuring low energy bills and a low carbon footprint.
The new visitor centre will offer a comprehensive service to the 130,000 visitors who visit these two sites annually. It will allow for a permanent display on the relevance of the temples, including the display of artefacts discovered at these two sites. The new fully accessible centre will also include an audio-visual room, an educational area for children, a small cafeteria/shop and toilets. Heritage Malta is confident that once the visitor centre is completed and opened to the public, public perception will review this project favourably.