Marks&Spencer acquired premises across Strait Street, a block away from the main commercial thoroughfare of Valletta, in order to expand its already existing retail outlet on the main square of the town. It was envisaged that the new building was to be linked to the existing shop by means of a bridge that spans this narrow street which has been for many years neglected and left undeveloped. Of the many shady bars which once gave the street its reputation, only a few survive.The balcony being an important architectural element in the streetscape of Valletta, it seemed ideal to reinterpret and recreate this external wooden element to contain the connection between the existing shop and its extension. This project for a retractable timber balcony located at first floor level reads as a discreet intervention with minimal structural and visual impact on the existing façade.
The bridge, made of a traditional wooden and steel construction, unfolds mechanically during shopping hours to allow access from one shop to the other and is operated with a series of mechanical winches and pistons which lower the floor, raise the roof and unfold the sides. It is kept closed at all other times, thus resolving the unsuitability of permanent bridges spanning across the street.
The project was made possible thanks to the narrowness of the street (Strait Street measuring 3.6 m in width) which allows the traditional proportion of the Maltese balcony (0.9 m wide and 2.7 m high) to be re-established while spanning across the street when it is in an open position.
Together with café located at ground level in its shade, and the retail outlet itself, the bridge has helped revitalize a run-down area of the capital city.
Nominated for the Mies van der Rohe architecture prize, 2005