The Malta Independent 20 September 2019, Friday

Malta’s iconic buses reborn as an electric fleet designed by Mizzi Studio

Tuesday, 2 April 2019, 13:30 Last update: about 7 months ago

Award-winning London and Malta-based architecture and design practice Mizzi Studio, has revealed innovative designs for a new electric fleet of buses for Malta, that could enable this small nation to lead the EU in the charge towards zero-emission public transport. The studio hopes to ignite a renewed sense of national pride through a contemporary, eco-friendly reimagining of the iconic Maltese buses that were decommissioned in 2011. The new designs will be showcased in a public exhibition at the parliament building in Valletta in July 2019.

In 2011, Malta’s traditional, colourful, driver-owned buses were retired as they no longer met EU standards for carbon emissions. Even so, these buses remain one of the country’s most recognisable symbols.  Many of the buses originated from the UK, with some of them dating back as far as the 1950s and most of them classified as antique. Some of them were replaced by London’s ‘bendy buses’, which were brought to the island by Arriva – but proved unsuitable for Malta’s road infrastructure and were eventually replaced.

With its new designs, Mizzi Studio aims to improve the environmental efficiency of Malta’s current diesel fleet whilst simultaneously bringing back the lost character that made the traditional buses so iconic. The fact that each vehicle was lovingly customised with painted images of cultural and religious references, made each bus as distinctive as the personality of its driver.

The studio has identified the strongest common characteristics of the traditional fleet and transposed them onto a modern chassis, including an oversized chrome grill, round hooded headlights and a visor overhanging the windscreen. The chrome bumper of Mizzi Studio’s bus adopts the form of the angel wing imagery often seen on traditional buses to symbolise victory and flight, whilst at the rear, a dual set of chrome wings provides cooling for the motor. These rear wings, in combination with the curving rear glass, form the negative space around an abstract Maltese cross, reinforcing a sense of national pride. Badges of a Maltese cross, along with horseshoe badges that were traditionally fixed to the buses to ward off evil spirits, can also be found on the new design.

Over the years, the traditional buses’ livery was transformed by local body shops, from a route-led multi-coloured system to a uniform fleet painted in green and then yellow with an orange stripe in Malta and grey coloured with a red horizontal stripe in Gozo. Mizzi Studio has opted to revert to the multi-coloured system due to the nostalgic value that this holds. One of the most captivating details of the traditional buses was the hand-painted line patterns and lettering (tberfil), which has been reimagined by the studio in digital form so that the drivers are able to customise each bus with text and imagery using LED technology, paying homage to the craftsmanship and pride associated with the traditional buses.

Mizzi Studio’s proposal is for a fully electric, emission-free fleet that is in line with the EU’s long-term strategy for a climate-neutral future. The new fleet would also have a full vision panel at the front, state-of-the-art air-conditioning and cooling systems, middle doors for efficient boarding and disembarking and low floors and ramps for disabled access. The studio hopes that these features, in combination with the considered design that gives a nod to its predecessors, will make public transport a more appealing option and help to relieve traffic and associated pollution on the island.

Director, Jonathan Mizzi, said: “I fell in love with our colourful Art Deco buses as a child. They were so friendly, almost like Pixar Cars characters with their anthropomorphic features like their cute hooded headlamp eyes, split windscreens that gave them a puppy-dog eyes expression and large smiling chrome bumpers. To lose them was a devastating blow to Malta’s identity as they truly were one of our country’s greatest icons. Since 2012, my studio has been developing a state-of-the-art, eco-friendly bus that pays homage to its heritage and aims to fill the large cultural gap that was left behind. I hope it will enable us as a nation to move forward whilst staying true to ourselves and have a national bus fleet that makes us proud to be Maltese.”

A free public exhibition, Malta Bus Reborn, will be held between July and September 2019 at the parliament building in Valletta. The exhibition will detail the steps in Mizzi Studio’s design process, including the research and development over a 7-year period that has informed the vehicle's technical and aesthetic features. Highlights of the exhibition will include the unveiling of a 1:6 scale model of the proposed bus, hand-built by expert model-makers 2D3D, and a five-minute film produced by Stargate Studios, picturing the new bus on routes through some of the islands’ most picturesque locations.

Konrad Pulé, General Manager, Malta Public Transport said “Malta Public Transport is delighted to support Jonathan Mizzi and his team in their vision of creating Malta’s future electric bus. We believe that the iconic traditional design combined with modern technology can be part of the solution to take mobility to the next level in Malta.”

Transport and Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg said: “Mizzi Studio’s proposal definitely brings about nostalgic memories of the traditional iconic Malta bus. We do currently have a fleet of buses which will eventually need to be changed and this idea is something to think about. Thinking of having a public transport system which is composed of an electric fleet of buses is obviously a perfect world.  So when the time arrives for the country to change its fleet, considering such a fantastic design with the added benefit of being electric is something to look at. We look forward to studying the idea further together with this talented team of designers.”

Transport Malta (TM) said it “is very pleased to see such effort from a renowned international architecture and design firm of the likes of Mizzi Studio.  This work is fully aligned with the objectives and general direction of the electro mobility programme and ideas put forward therein. This is definitely an ambitious endeavor utilizing smart and sustainable technology that, if fulfilled, will contribute towards Malta’s meeting its European and International environmental obligations, improving air quality as well as making Malta a cleaner, healthier place live-in. TM fully supports such an initiative.”

 

 

 

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