Documenting Difference

Text Catalogue x University of Malta Workshop /

The present predicament of a noticeable many to afford smaller and smaller dwellings is perhaps best symbolised in the ubiquitous form of the neo-apartment block: a repeatable recipe of corridor-type units deployed to quickly (and cheaply) satisfy the insatiable market-appetite of a growing population (Covid-19 causing only a temporary dip in the upward trend). For a landscape composed of 90’s developments, 60’s modernism, Colonial-era and older strata, this infectious and indiscriminate mushrooming of the neo-apartment block in every town imposes a veneer of sameness: Manikata, Msida and Marsaxlokk becoming less distinguishable with every passing year.

The aesthetic of sameness is easily recognisable, attributed to the nondescript quality this typology has become synonymous for. The choreography of sameness is however less perceptible, and yet it is more influential in authoring the lives of habitants. Occurring within the main elements of the typology – the closed, common corridor, the mid-plot lift and stair core and template corridor-type units – the unrestrained reproduction of this choreography convinces subjects not just to accept sameness but to pursue it at a relational (and not just aesthetic) level. This workshop therefore turns towards difference within the built fabric, where new unexpected choreographies may unfold and inspire productive ways of dwelling.

Documenting Difference finds its basis in a collaborative 2020/21 workshop which supports an investigation into the current state of dense dwelling typologies in Malta. The workshop seeks to aid in the development of design project proposals by applying theoretical and critical processes to the observation and imagined transformation of the local built landscape. Here we feature the research and documentation results of the workshop produced by BSc 2nd Year students from University of Malta’s Faculty for the Built Environment. This publication was curated and edited in collaboration with John Bajada, and the workshop was supported by Prof. Alex Torpiano, Dean of the Faculty for the Built Environment and Dr. Irina Miodragovic Vella, Head of Department of Architecture and Urban Design, together with architects and visiting lecturers Alex Spiteri and Peter Brincat.