The Villa

Villa Anna Teresa is a hidden gem of St Julian’s architectural heritage. Up to recently, it was only showing from the thoroughfare a narrow frontage set back from the line of the street, which does not give away anything about lies behind. The demolition of the house next door, a later, less inspired addition, allows passers-by a glimpse of the principal façade. Indeed, the villa is exclusively orientated towards the adjoining garden and walled garden set out “en enfilade”.

The fabric of the Villa is in a typical neo-classical style that was prevalent in early period of the British era. The main façade sits over a raised terrace and rises two storeys above it. It displays a main body, five-bay wide, flanked with slightly recessed wings on either side. The piano nobile is adorned with a stone balcony with cast and wrought iron railings, originally running along the whole breadth of the façade.

The setting of the Villa is a more elusive affaire. The Estate has seen a number of alterations, in content as well as extent, over time. The remaining palimpsest only reveals the strong connection with the walled garden, which may well have been providing the main access to the villa. The relationship with the surrounding urban fabric at the time of its construction is not easily legible nowadays.

The project for the creation of a care home on the site of the Villa is an amazing opportunity to bring back the Villa to a state closer to its former glory. The demolition of the neighbouring house has freed up the corner of the Villa, this being a first step towards giving back its symmetry to the garden façade. It will allow the reinstatement of the missing section of the stone and iron balcony.

The iron railing of the balcony is the element of the Villa which is requiring the most attention, in terms of restoration and conservation works. The lower rail supporting the delicate balusters was made U-shaped thus trapping rainwater. It was found heavily decayed and in need of complete replacement.

The Villa has suffered the expected deterioration brought about by the harsh climate and the pollution. Fortunately, the overall condition of the Villa was fair as it remained in use and some maintenance was being carried out. Although, some intervention involving the use of cementitious materials have also been detrimental to the fabric. The main forms of decay encountered where the deterioration of mortar joints, with a few damages also visible on the stonework, the formation of black crust and the development of biological growth.

Proper pointing of joints is considered one of the most important aspects of restoration of buildings.  Most of the deterioration starts from the loss of pointing.  It is of great importance that, in restoration work and in the replacement of masonry of ancient buildings, the correct techniques and materials linked to the history of the construction discovered during the restoration itself are used. With a wall built of globigerina stone like the ones of the Villa and many others from Maltese architectural heritage, this involves the use of a lime-based mortar.

The black crust is the result of attack of sulphates in the atmosphere. Sulphur dioxide is very aggressive. It reacts readily with the water in the atmosphere to form sulphurous acid. The latter attacks limestone directly to produce calcium sulphite which, combined with oxygen, forms gypsum. Gypsum is slightly soluble in water, and under normal circumstances is washed away by rainwater, keeping the stone surface clean, albeit contributing to its erosion. In sheltered areas from the rain, a gypsum crust is formed. In high humidity levels, acid droplets in the polluted air condense on the crust. This reacts with the unchanged limestone surface and binds any available particulate pollutants to the surface. The crust thus becomes less permeable and acquires as a result its black colour.

Excessive biological growth, which occurs when water is allowed to pool or concentrate on part of the façade, forms dark stains that affect the aesthetic quality of the masonry. These stains are mainly the results of defects in the fabric of the building, by design or by wear, like the lack of a drip mould at the top of a wall or a leaking rainwater pipe. Where water is swiftly shed away as it should be, the biological growth participate in the formation of a patina, which is highly sought after feature for an historic building as it a unique display of its history and is therefore considered as the graceful way to age for a stone building.

The aim of the restoration and conservation intervention should always be to treat decay and sources of further decay, while highlighting the beauty of the architecture and its natural aging process.