Josef Aquilina, founding partner at CREAID, was designated to carry out the structural and aesthetic conservation-restoration of the only wooden coffered ceiling inside a seventeenth century Valletta building known today as Dar l-Ewropa. The entire conservation project, which transformed the building to house the offices of the European Commission and the European Parliament, has been awarded with a Diploma in the 2009 Architectural Heritage Awards by local NGO “Din l-Art Ħelwa”, for a most important contribution to architectural heritage, for the rehabilitation and re-use of a XVI century Valletta town house.
The baroque ceiling was in a very poor condition both structurally and aesthetically. Most of the damage was attributable to ill use and to a general negligence of the edifice itself. This had moreover led to a widespread biodegradation which seriously endangered its survival and transmission over time. The entire structure was liable to collapse as the secondary beams – supporting sides North and South –had slid out of their corresponding sockets due to overloading. Damage from water ingress further contributed to the deteriorated state of the structure.
Heavy loads both from on top of the ceiling boards and inside the inaccessible coffers were removed through careful cleaning. The infiltration of the overlying stone spalls and sand layer into the coffers contributed to the overloading of the structure. Such operation has even helped in making successive impregnating treatments of both biocide and consolidants more effective and achieving a better penetration into the cavity of the wood.
Creep deformations in the framework were corrected where possible once it was ensured that the structure was stabilised. Both north-east and south-west sides of the ceiling where cautiously hoisted back into their former position and supported by tension hangers off the newly inserted steel beam relieving structure.
Through meticulous cleaning, large amounts of fillers, plasters and layers of paint were removed. This intervention restored the proper aesthetic and perspective of the ceiling while re-exposing its detailed decoration.
Through scientific testing carried out during the cleaning process it resulted that traces of the original pigments remained, suggesting that the ceiling may most probably have originally been polychrome. Not enough evidence unfortunately remained to be able to reinstate such colours, thus a neutral colour scheme was chosen to enhance the ceiling’s aesthetic while taking into consideration the new uses.