Nowness: Architecture in Transience

The Orpheum, Gzira, Malta
University of Malta, Masters in Architecture, 2016

This project identifies the disused 1930s Orpheum Theatre as an extension of Gzira and of its people, existing outside of a strictly defined program or purpose. By investigating narrative as a tool for architecture, the project sought to explore how Orpheum can be revived by being set into transience. A transience promoting conservation not of material but of narrative, of the people’s connections with the space and each other. Orpheum is not frozen in time but it is allowed to ‘shift’ and recreate itself, creating traceable layers, to house the multiplicity of its soul – its people, so that they can relate to it, as it was and as it is now as a “snapshot of transition”.

Orpheum is not dead. It is betrayed by the passing of its heyday, once the be all and end all of Gzira’s social life, today a locked up ruin, but still its spirit seems to live on in the souls of each in every one of its people.

In understanding that in some sense, Orpheum’s soul has left its body, it desperately needs it to return for its narrative to continue, for fear of it being lost forever with the changing of generations. With the acceptance of the need to earn new meaning, Orpheum should turn to what has allowed it to survive beyond its closed façade – its people. From the start of its story, the roar of the theatre and cinema days, up to the closing of its doors, the single constant was the people which kept Orpheum alive. It begins a journey for examining potential, with the hope of being able to write a story again.

Only through the opening to this observation of everything that is already there, can the story begin to unfold. Turning towards not that which was, or that which will be, that which is. It is time to unravel the potential that surrounds, that which was there from the start, and that which allowed the first stories to be written in the first place – it is time to unravel the Great Beauty.

With this realisation, through its ‘being’, as ‘people, their stories and their marks’, Orpheum becomes a sponge absorbing everything and everyone around it. With this, a breeder of potential is born, a recogniser of the Great Beauty – let the stories unfold!

In order for the people and their stories to spill into Orpheum, in order to truly capture the transition of meaning we need to turn to how the soul has survived from the start to the present – in the form of the everyday, the spatial relations and connections.  Therefore we challenge the need to impose program or function.

In observing the ‘now’, we recognise a present aura of ‘Existence preceding essence’ (Sartre).  The lives of Orpheum’s neighbours will most purely spill in to the building if they are not imposed on by a new limiting function, but if they seamlessly puncture through the façade and allow an extension of their ‘Great Beauty’. In order for Orpheum to successfully allow this, it must host a gradient of potentials, rather than a utility space. A space which can be to person A, not what it is to person B. In meeting with such a space we bring all our preconceptions, based on memory, personal experience and expectation. What we experience is a result of how that space relates and reacts with our preconceptions and vice versa.

In ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ Deleuze and Guattari suggest that “we step into the world of the virtual, where anything can happen”. In carefully studying the interaction between the people and the building, a design process is born of an attempt to introduce shifts and folds through the space. Parameters are studied through limitations of materials, interconnections of movement paths and views, which all come together for the set-up of a game of design moves to be played, resulting in an architecture that morphs and transforms – an architecture of transition, an architecture that recreates itself.

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