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Designing Life, Designing Dialogue

Design is not about style and form, but about facilitating and enriching human life while respecting the environment in which humans live.

I was fortunate enough to have had my house designed for me: to have everything in my house designed for me, around me, the way I live and what and who I love. And, in a beautiful way, everywhere you look is designed to be pleasing, harmonious and beautiful, as well as to function for me.

I realised at a young age how affected I am visually by my surroundings. How the right mix of symmetry and well-thought-out organised chaos, the right amount of light, the right proportions and the right composition of items in my field of vision make me feel content and happy, and help me to be efficient. I understand the value of everyday objects that have been designed while keeping human behaviour in mind: individual behaviour, sometimes.

And there is one thing I love more than what is visually pleasing while being functional: I love good conversation. I possibly love a good discussion so much that it might virtually obliterate my concerns with my immediate physical surroundings, especially if my surroundings are far from beautiful. This is why Design Dialogues, held every second year by 808 Foundation is, for me, one of the highlights of the Maltese Contemporary cultural calendar.

Malta Design Week 17 – 22 September 2018




808 Foundation, with architect Chris Briffa at its helm, is a non-profit NGO consisting of people who are not only affected by good design, its presence – and often its absence, but who have made it their life’s mission to help people understand its importance.

They launched the first ever Malta Design Week in 2011 and embedded in it the first Design Dialogues. In that first Design Week, it was clear that the team was attempting to launch a culture of valuing design, of valuing quality in craftsmanship, of appreciating and supporting creativity and respecting originality. It was a resounding success and thousands of people – whether involved in the architecture and design world or not – flocked to the then newly renovated Fort St Elmo to check out what Malta was offering in terms of design, in its broad definition and involving various genres.

I truly believe that the artists and designers who designed for and showed their work at that first Design Week in Malta have been permanently affected by it. It was around that time that Enrique Tabone started making her incredible jewellery and eventually opened a shop on Old Bakery Street.

Duška Malešević published her first book and Architect Rueben Lautier launched The Natural Stone Workshop, selling extraordinary carved marble everyday objects. Sandra Zaffarese and Jennifer Barth set up a few pop-up shops that both sourced and commissioned design objects and presented a gift-buying experience unlike anything that this country had ever seen.

I also got the impression that importers of designer furniture, such as DEX – who import VITRA – were, if I were to be optimistic, catapulted into people’s minds when it came to choosing both contract furniture for establishments and also pieces for our homes. Design elements became more recognisable and began being placed on the menu. Alas, the words ‘designed’ and ‘designer’ are still over-used and mostly used inappropriately when it comes to real estate and furniture marketing. Much more must be done in terms of educating architects and developers, as well as the public, when it comes to the appropriate use of these words and perhaps that is what Design Dialogues attempts to do.

‘The Original Comes from Vitra’ was the title of an ancillary event showing a roaming exhibition of Vitra masterpieces held at the Valletta Waterfront at the same time as this year’s Design Dialogues. The well attended TED-talk style presentations that constituted Design Dialogues 2018 were given by a wonderfully diverse group of high-calibre, international and local designers and architects and some effort was made to ensure that either the speaker or the subject had some form of local context.

When checking out the speakers, I read about two of the founding members of 72 Hour Urban Action and found myself learning how this intense competition – aimed at transforming urban spaces – had even reached our very own Birżebbuġa and, in fact, the project is taking place as this edition goes to print! 

I was honoured to meet renowned architect Tetsuo Kondo from Japan, who is currently designing the public green space that will soon top the anticipated Valletta Design Cluster. The opportunity to view and discuss the approved design for this space literally made my heart race in pleasant anticipation. It feels almost surreal that a much-needed centralised initiative to provide a space, and a process to foster, nurture and help the development of a design culture in Valletta is actually happening.

The 2018 edition also honoured the Malta-based audience with a presentation by Toby F. Blunt from super-architecture firm Foster + Partners and a perhaps tad controversial one by Prof Arch. Marco Casamonti from Archea, Italy about the much-discussed rendition of the project which revived the Suq Tal-Belt.

As famed Austrian architect Peter Lorenz said recently, while giving a presentation in Malta, design is not about style and form but about facilitating and enriching human life, while respecting the environment in which humans live.

Good design should do all this, whether it’s an object designed to last, in a sustainable and re-usable material and replaces and does away with the need for several other objects, or a building that not only does not encroach on open spaces and the natural landscape but increases them, and enhances our enjoyment of them.

There’s still a long way to go, and I honestly cannot wait for the next edition of Design Dialogues.

Design Dialogues was presented by 808 Foundation between 17 and 22 September at Valletta Campus Theatre. This year’s Design Dialogues speakers were: Tetsuo Kondo (Tetsuo Kondo Architects; Japan), Dmitri Jajich & Karl Micallef (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, USA); Toby F. Blunt (Foster + Partners, UK); Prof. Arch. Marco Casamonti (Archea, Italy); Marco Scerri (Malta); 72 Hour Urban Action (GER); OS ∆ OOS (NDR); Germans Ermičs (Latvia/NDR); Prof. Andrew Walters (PDR, Wales); Neil Pace O’Shea (Malta) and other special guests. More information is available on

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