ZEN IN ZEJTUN is tucked away behind an unassuming facade in the heart of the Mediterranean village of Zejtun, Malta. Architect Daniel Scerri, of DSP, has put together the knowledge he has gained in his 20 years experience designing houses to convert a 500 year old vernacular house into a Contemporary Work that connects to the original restored built fabric.
Architizer chatted with Daniel Scerri, Architect at Daniel Scerri Periti [DSP] to learn more about the project.
Architizer: Please summarize the project brief and creative vision behind your project.
Daniel Scerri: The project brief was to create a contemporary and practical single-family dwelling, with all the modern amenities, while remaining respectful to the long history of the house. All original and early structures were retained and restored, and an insulated ventilated system built surrounding the outer shell, that isolates the interiors from heat losses and heat gains, while drawing out moisture and humidity from the old walls. The challenge was to create firstly a contrast with any new extension, while retaining the peaceful feel of what attracted the owner to buy the property in the first place; being both part of the old village life, and at the same time secluded in a private peaceful space.
What inspired the initial concept for your design?
The main inspiration was the peace felt in the site itself. It was quiet, secluded and private. The property overlooked a back garden [and surrounding gardens] within the heart of a centuries-old village core. A green oasis with birds, wild grass, trees, butterflies and stray cats. The house, therefore was designed to focus mainly onto the outside space, opening up the private back facade completely onto the garden, while the main street facade was restored as an indistinct, unassuming continuation of the streetscape. The idea of the original traditional internal courtyard was also retained as a double-height space linking all levels of the house.
What do you believe is the most unique or ‘standout’ component of the project?
From my point of view, the fact that so much work was done to the property, and yet the peacefulness and calmness originally felt were managed to be retained is a big achievement. The project was easily accepted by observant neighbours since it was respectful to sun paths and volumetry of the neighbouring townhouses. The original parts of the building still stand out as much as the contemporary parts. The result is blend of old and new that blends, contrasts and respects in the right proportion.
What was the greatest design challenge you faced during the project, and how did you navigate it?
An L-shape of building, which was the original [and early parts of the] building, had to be retained. This created a division wall between the main spaces of the home. To solve this, this fin wall was treated as a design feature throughout the ground floor, and its existing perforations were enhanced with the use of deep dark door jambs which further enhanced the impressive thickness of the centuries-old walls. One door, for example, was converted into a kitchen breakfast bench area. Another was converted into an inbuilt bookcase. For execution, meanwhile, since the property lies within the heart of an old Maltese village, access was tricky for heavy machinery. Careful programming on dismantling walls, excavation and infilling was essential for the success of the project.
What drove the selection of materials used in the project?
The chosen materials had to blend in well with both the existing, old, traditional, heavy limestone stonework, as well as with the contemporary, lighter interventions. A natural palette of Contemporary Classic raw, natural materials were therefore used – raw wood, exposed steel, dark bronze/grey apertures and fixed installations. These were then complemented by richer and softer textures like fabric weaved wallpaper, dark beige natural stone, bronze trimmings and matte while wall panelling. The colour of the pool itself was an exercise to achieve the colour of the local sea, using adjusted proportions of a blend of 7 colours.
What is your favorite detail in the project and why?
I love how the various textures contrast and complement each other, and how the joints of where the materials meet are detailed.
How important was sustainability as a design criteria as you worked on this project?
In this project it was fundamental. The project back facade, which was designed as an open facade, was South-facing. In this country, a South facing window means excessive heat gains in summer. The sun angles were therefore studied to prevent entry of the sharp summer sun, but direct sunlight into the whole house in winter, with the lower sun angles right up till sunset. The floor was raised on a new ventilated floor, and the house adequately insulated on all surfaces. A fireplace and its chimney radiate heat throughout all levels of the house in winter. For summer generated heat inside the house, a triple-height air channel is created that draws warm air from the living area up to the roof directly, which has appropriate apertures to create cross ventilation from all the major wind directions. Cooler air can also be drawn from an existing basement.
Were any parts of the project dramatically altered from conception to construction, and if so, why?
No, in this case, the project adhered strictly to the original design concept.
What key lesson did you learn in the process of conceiving the project?
Client and Architect determination are the key fundamentals for the success of an Architectural Design project.
Is there anything else important you’d like to share about this project?
This project has recently won a Commendation Award in the recent Malta Architecture & Spatial Planning Awards 2021, held in February, in the Interior Architecture Award for Residential Projects category.
Daniel Scerri Periti [DSP] also won the first prize in the same category with another project “Change in Direction”, also shown in the firm’s portfolio on Architizer.
Please list any team members and consultants you’d like to include in the credits.
DSP team who contributed to this project: Daniel Scerri, Rebecca Zammit, Ruth Vella, Nick Inguanez, Luke Fenech, Ivan Buttigieg [Structural engineer consultant], Tonio Lombardi [Photographer].
For more information on ZEN IN ZEJTUN, visit the in-depth project profile on Architizer.
ZEN IN ZEJTUN [MALTA] Gallery
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