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April 17, 2024

In Conversation with design architect Maurizio Ascione

Maurizio Ascione’s architectural journey is characterised by a commitment to timelessness, innovation, and societal relevance. Through his studio’s projects and initiatives, Maurizio seeks to redefine Malta’s architectural identity while staying true to fundamental design principles. His vision for architecture extends beyond aesthetics, emphasizing the profound impact that built environments have on society and culture. As Maurizio continues to push the boundaries of architectural discourse, his work serves as a beacon for those who share his passion for creating spaces that transcend time and inspire generations to come.

What are your earliest memories of architecture, and how did they shape your path as a design architect?

My earliest memories of architecture stem from my childhood visits to Rome, where I was captivated by the city’s rich architectural heritage. Exploring museums, chapels, and iconic landmarks like the Vatican instilled in me a deep appreciation for the artistry and craftsmanship of buildings. Additionally, growing up in a family with artistic inclinations, particularly with a talented painter in the lineage, further fueled my fascination with creativity and design. However, it wasn’t until a school visit where a teacher suggested pursuing architecture that I realised my true calling. From that moment on, I was determined to become an architect, driven by a sense of connection and purpose.

What did you do after graduating, and how has your career evolved since then?

Following my graduation, I embarked on a journey of apprenticeship with various architects, eager to gain hands-on experience and refine my skills. Eventually, an opportunity arose to co-found 3DM Architecture, an emerging studio based in Malta. Joining this studio marked a significant milestone in my career, providing a platform for growth and creativity. Over the years, as the studio has expanded, so too has my role and responsibilities within it. Each project presents new challenges and opportunities for learning, contributing to a continuous evolution both professionally and creatively.

How do you perceive the evolution of your architectural style and approach over time?

Architecturally, evolution is inherent to our practice. We approach each project with a commitment to innovation, drawing inspiration from architectural principles and theories while pushing the boundaries of creativity. From our earliest projects to our most recent endeavors, there’s a noticeable progression in our design language and execution. We constantly strive to refine our techniques, experiment with new concepts, and integrate feedback from past experiences. The journey of evolution is ongoing, fueled by a passion for excellence and a desire to create spaces that resonate with our clients and communities.

How would you describe your architectural philosophy, and what principles guide your design approach?

Rather than focusing solely on style, our architectural philosophy is rooted in timelessness and purity of space. We strive to create environments that remain relevant regardless of the era, maintaining a sense of timelessness while still reflecting contemporary needs and sensibilities. Our designs possess a distinct language that is identifiable as our own, yet we remain sensitive to the context and client requirements for each project. This balance between timeless aesthetics and contextual responsiveness is fundamental to our approach.

What inspired you to establish your own architectural studio, and what drives your motivation as a business owner?

The decision to start our own architectural studio was driven by a vision for growth and self-expression. Our motivation lies in the pursuit of continually evolving and reaching new heights in our profession. We understand that there is no endpoint to this journey; it’s a perpetual quest for improvement and innovation. By establishing our studio, we have created a platform to channel our creative energies and pursue our architectural vision with unwavering dedication.

Can you tell us about some of your recent projects and any innovative initiatives you’ve undertaken?

Recently, our studio has been deeply engaged in addressing the issue of Malta’s architectural identity, or rather, its perceived loss over the past 50 years. Looking ahead, we want to ensure that future generations can look back and recognise a distinct architectural movement associated with this era. To kickstart this conversation, we created an installation called ‘ISSA’, which was prominently featured at last year’s Venice Biennale of Architecture. The installation aims to foster self-awareness among both the general public and industry professionals, urging us all to take action. The term ‘issa’ embodies this sentiment—it’s a call to action, a recognition that we must address this issue now.

One of our guiding principles is the idea that “society is a mirror of the architecture we build,” prompting us to reflect on our current architectural practices. Our approach involves bridging the past with the present, drawing inspiration from historical techniques and materials while reinterpreting them in a contemporary context. We believe in embracing sensitivity to context while still creating architecture that speaks to the present moment. This means that interventions in rural or urban conservation areas need not adhere strictly to traditional aesthetics, unless they are particularly relevant to the context. By focusing on fundamental architectural principles such as massing, proportions, scale, articulation, colour, and materials, we strive to create a contemporary architectural language that respects its surroundings and reflects the spirit of our time.

Aside from ISSA, can you mention other projects that showcase your architectural philosophy?

Certainly, another project that exemplifies our approach is ‘twentyfour’, a terraced house designed to reflect contemporary living in Malta. Our aim with ‘twentyfour’ was to reimagine the terraced house for the year 2024 while remaining sensitive to the local context and tradition. We asked ourselves how a terraced house in modern-day Malta should look, taking into account traditional geometry and local materials such as Hydraulic Lime. The design utilises a monochromatic palette to evoke a sense of serenity and connection to the Maltese landscape. We wanted the users to experience the same textures and sensations they encounter during walks on the beach, thus incorporating rough-textured limestone into the interior spaces. ‘twentyfour’ serves as our interpretation of modern Maltese architecture, and we hope it encourages other architects to explore their own unique interpretations, fostering a more diverse architectural landscape.

What is the current state of quality in Maltese architecture, and how do you envision its future?

In Malta, I believe we are at a crossroads in terms of architectural quality. While there are undoubtedly talented architects producing exceptional work, there is also a risk of losing the soul of our architecture. We need to shift our focus towards creating architecture that reflects our identity and values as a society. It’s about moving away from overdevelopment and embracing a more thoughtful, playful, and contextual approach to design. We must ask ourselves how we want to be remembered as a generation—do we want to be known for overdevelopment, or do we want to be remembered as the generation that began the process of healing and refining our architectural soul? The future of Maltese architecture lies in our ability to prioritise quality, contextuality, and sustainability in our built environment.

What aspects of Maltese architecture do you appreciate, and what challenges do you see in the perception of architectural design in Malta?

One aspect of Maltese architecture that I appreciate is its diversity, stemming from centuries of cultural influences. However, a challenge we face is the subjective nature of design and architecture perception in Malta. While everyone is entitled to their preferences, there needs to be a greater appreciation for the expertise and professionalism of architects. Design decisions should be based on sound principles and considerations rather than solely on personal taste. It’s crucial for clients and stakeholders to trust the expertise of architects and recognise the value they bring to the table. By fostering a culture of collaboration and respect for architectural expertise, we can elevate the quality and perception of Maltese architecture.

Can you mention places in Malta with exceptional architecture?

Undoubtedly, Valletta stands out as a treasure trove of architectural marvels, particularly in areas like the transformation around the Parliament building. This serves as a prime example of how architectural interventions should seamlessly blend contemporary design with historical context.

Take the Parliament building, for instance; it’s a modern interpretation that pays homage to its surroundings with shield lines reminiscent of St James’ Cavalier and thoughtful materiality, such as the weathered stone facades. This integration perfectly encapsulates the ethos we strive for in our architectural endeavors. It’s crucial to extend this approach beyond major projects and incorporate it into smaller-scale developments throughout Malta.

Who are some architects that inspire you and whose work you admire?

My inspirations draw heavily from Mediterranean architects such as Alvaro Siza, Souto de Moura, and Aires Mateus, primarily hailing from Spain and Portugal. Their designs resonate with me due to their sensitivity to context, innovative approaches, and timeless aesthetics. Their work serves as a blueprint for creating architecture that not only reflects local identity but also pushes the boundaries of design innovation.

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?

My advice to aspiring architects is to cultivate a clear vision and remain true to their design language. Never shy away from proposing bold ideas, even if they seem unconventional at first. It’s these out-of-the-box concepts that often lead to groundbreaking innovations and garner respect within the industry. Stay committed to your principles, continuously refine your skills, and never lose sight of the impact architecture can have on society.

What is your ultimate goal as an architect, both in Malta and beyond?

My ultimate goal as an architect is to leave a positive imprint on the built environment, not only in Malta but also on a global scale. . I hope to inspire future generations of architects to pursue their passions with dedication and integrity, always striving to make a meaningful impact on the world around them.

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