The Malta Independent 3 February 2023, Friday
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Gustave R. Vincenti – an architectural legacy

Tuesday, 22 November 2022, 11:24 Last update: about 3 months ago

Author: David Ellul. Publisher: Kite Group 2022. Pages: 326 pages. Foreword to the book by Edward Said

Few can say they have had the thrill of discovering and handling an actual treasure. David Ellul can certainly claim so, after encountering a cache of drawings, records, journals and countless other documents belonging to Perit Gustave Romeo Vincenti, undisputedly one of Malta's most significant architects in recent history. David's connection with the late Vincenti, particularly through his only son Hilaire, presented an opportunity to immerse himself in the dynamic world of this distinguished man. Inspired to follow in his footsteps, David did not hesitate to focus his baccalaureate thesis on Vincenti's career for which he asked me to be his tutor, an invitation I rigorously accepted.

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I, for one, had long been fascinated by the architect. As a native of Sliema, I grew up only metres away from beautiful houses which are today considered as some of his masterpieces. Across in Valletta, I stayed countless times at my grandparents' apartment in the central block of Vincenti Buildings overlooking Strada Forni with its cavernous common areas, lofty balconies, well-lit living spaces and that overall endearing Art Deco feel. I recall my grandmother remarking what a gentleman Perit Vincenti was. Later, as I pursued an interest in history of Maltese architecture, it became increasingly clear that Gustave Vincenti was a pioneer. David's book is indeed a tribute to this man's versatility as an architectural practitioner, one who designed and even sold some of his buildings to clients; a stickler for quality, excellent taste, and, yes, good business.

Nostalgia and platitudes aside however, I feel this book has a more valuable purpose and serves as a tool, if not a weapon. For fear of dating this piece, it must be admitted that such a publication could not have been launched at a more critical time. In a country where the built environment is undergoing rapid and radical changes which, put aptly, would surely horrify Perit Vincenti, dissemination of knowledge about the wealth of architectural legacies which he, his contemporaries, and their followers passed down to us is screamingly lacking. While there is now some level of appreciation for Art Nouveau works with a precious few examples surviving after so much being wantonly lost, Art Deco, and particularly Modernist buildings, are still largely undervalued. With the latter, an entire genre of Maltese architecture is presently being expunged as a result of myopic town-planning, sheer greed and convenient ignorance. Vincenti's own mansion in St Julian's, which to my view is of equal importance to the Siculo-Norman Palazzo Falson in Mdina and the Baroque Hotel De Verdelin in Valletta, is threatened with oblivion. We are militating for the legal protection of a unique example of Maltese Modernism so worthy of the Grade 1 cultural heritage monument status, largely armed with the strength of David's research. What a dream it would be to have this distinctive landmark fully restored and accessible to the public; how it would resonate with Gustave Vincenti's philanthropic contributions too!

Another service this fascinating publication provides is one of inspiration to young architects and other practitioners in related fields. Surely the crisply reproduced selection of plans, elevations and photographs from this wonderful archive will ignite a desire to learn, research, draft manually, sketch and emulate. Barely a century ago, Vincenti embarked on a journey of aesthetic development, responding vigorously to fashions of the times, him often being his own customer, however almost effortlessly always being true to the Vitruvian triad of firmness, commodity and delight.

Copies of the book are available from www.kitegroup.com.mt, at the Book Festival MFCC Ta' Qali and leading bookstores.


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