Europe House - Dar l-Ewropa - Valletta
The new offices of the European Commission and the European Parliament are located at house number 254 in St Paul's street. The street, punctuated by distinctive shop façades, has its own personality which contrasts with the bursting motion of Republic Street, and the openness of Merchants Street. It is quiet in its narrowness and dramatic in its steepness. It is populated by the knife-sharpener and the church-goer, and echoes the sights and sound of the traditions of the St Paul community. Dar l-Ewropa stands at a corner where St Paul's street meets Old Theatre Street. Its façade, with the sharp contrast of the blue of the door and the powdery luminance of the limestone, immediately captures the eye of the passer-by. Although there is no documented evidence which points to the date of the erection of the building, its architectural vocabulary points to the 17th century. It would not be unfounded to assume, however, that the building underwent interventions of embellishment after that as a result of the urban renewal that characterized this part of the town in the 18th century.
The house was occupied for about two centuries by the Pasquale Sceberras Trigona family, and therefore for much of its lifetime it has been a place of residence. Stories about the use of the building as a tribunal courthouse of the Knights of St John surface in the form of urban hearsay, yet there is no evidence which testifies to this being true. The history of the house remains, therefore, somewhat of an enigma. The building, however, has a strong presence, with its entrance façade facing onto the bustling life of the city and its back façade overlooking the calm grandeur of the Grand Harbour.
On stepping into the house, the visitor finds himself in a lofty entrance hall with its cross-vaulted ceiling that leads on to a series of large rooms; while on the left a small outdoor courtyard, bathed in sunlight, allows you to grasp the extent of the three floor building. In the courtyard, a stone carved fountain niche has been restored. Above the niche, two sculpted angels can be seen flanking what possibly could have been the coat-of-arms of occupants or users of the building. The coat-of-arms has been replaced, but the fountain itself still retains its original sculptural character.
Travelling up the flight of barrel vaulted stairs to the second floor, one is led into an open area which is fronted by three large rectangular windows, allowing the visitor a first view of the Grand Harbour. The contrast from the dark narrow staircase into this open area filled with air and light is quite spectacular. Above the rectangular windows is perhaps the most characteristic feature of the house: three circular apertures which punctuate the wall like holes punched into a canopy letting in streams of light. It is these three round windows which give the building its signature. When seen from across the harbour, amidst a sea of cubes and angular masses, three porthole-like structures mark the presence of the building, allowing it at once to be recognizable.
It is on this floor that one can see the most notable new intervention in the house; a bridge which joins the first floor indoor area to a large outdoor terrace once again overlooking the same view. This intervention allows for continuity and ease of access from inside to outside spaces. When standing outside on the terrace, the context in which the building is set once again becomes strikingly clear. Looking out onto the harbour one cannot but be reminded of the countless literary and painterly descriptions of foreign visitors approaching the Islands by boat and taking in their first impression of the place.
Access to the third floor of the building can once again be gained from the terrace through an iron spiral staircase which leads up to the upper-floor offices. Once again these offices boast a spectacular view of the harbour. They are open, full of light, and provide a perfect meeting space for visitors. At the opposing end of the third floor are a group of smaller offices. These lead onto a staggeringly different facet of the building's environment. Overlooking the suq, or closed marketplace, these offices catch a glimpse not of the noble beauty of the harbour, but the everyday bustle of city life. It is this multi-faceted context that allows the building to immerse itself into the essence of the city of Valletta, which is omnipresent in all its multifarious elements. As a result, the move from Ta'Xbiex to Valletta is important not just logistically, but also from the point of view of the entire new meaning that the offices have acquired, thanks to their new location.