St. Lawrence Band Club - Birgu

This fine 19th Century large house in Victory Square with a magnificent facade is unique in Birgu, it was built in 1880 (the date 1883 which is inlaid in the marble floor of this house probably refers to the foundation of the St. Lawrence Band Club, whose premises it has been since 1922, but the best indications are that this house was built in the 1880’s. In the Directory in the Malta Commercial Almanac and General Advertiser for the year 1888 wherein Michele Soler, the original owner, is shown to be already living in this house) and has a very typical old plan with a small courtyard and small rooms on its sides even though by legislation enacted in 1880 (Chapter 13 of the Code of Police Laws) new houses had to have a backyard running the full width of the house.

A very striking architectural feature in its renowned facade is the arched windows; they are three in all in the second floor. Such semi-circular windows were obsolete in Baroque facades but architect Giuseppe Bonavia designed this facade in the upper top floor particularly for this Birgu house with the arched windows and a long open iron railed balcony.  Architect Bonavia repeated in wood and glass the motif of this facade with a mixture of the semicircle, oriental element and its Gothic style, thus making it the most striking facade in Birgu after that of the Parish church. All these three succeeded in integrating his balconies that were made of wood and enclosed beautiful balcony by introducing extensions on each side with normal iron railing, consequently repeating these with the upper flooring balcony.

The deterioration processes experienced by the facade were the result of a number of factors such as exposure and orientation, salt contamination (sea spray, rising damp, nitrates and incompatible materials), biological attack, material properties of stone, lack of maintenance, human intervention and pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels. The various causes of deterioration gave rise to loss of pointing, deterioration of mortars and masonry, black crust formation, mechanical damage and loss of structural integrity, soiling, graffiti and biological infestation.

The intervention currently being done of the facade of the Band Club is focusing on the restoration of the deteriorated masonry fabric, removal of black crust formation, pointing, stabilization of detached masonry facings cleaning and reconstruction of missing and deteriorated limestone fabric. The interventions are being done as follows; first the stone surface is cleaned from superficial deposits, deteriorated masonry fabric is being replaced and friable masonry fabric consolidated. Open joints are then re-pointed and homogenisation of masonry fabric is then achieved through the application of a transparent velatura.

Cleaning of the stone is being carried out sensitively so that the original patina is respected. Great efforts are being done to ensure that the patina acquired by the stonework is respected and only hand held tools are being used. The minimum possible stone replacement is being undertaken. All new stonework is worked from good quality globigerina limestone to respect the original course heights and bedding plane of the stonework replaced.

The pointing of the masonry fabric is being carried out using a lime-based mortar which is weaker than the masonry, yet durable. Various tests were carried out on site to determine the best mix taking factors such as workability and durability amongst others into consideration. All joints are cleaned and pre-wetted using water. The joints are then pointed with lime mortar. Every effort is being done to ensure that the pointing is being carried out as neat as possible with the width of the joint kept to the possible minimum. After the initial set the of the pointing the mortar is then slightly roughened this leaves a pleasant weathered appearance and the rough texture tends to assist the wall to dry out and to concentrate wetting and drying activity in the joint.

The various interventions being carried out for the treatment of the masonry fabric will after the restoration is completed tend to detract from the visual unity of the building. This is mainly due to the fact that the natural patina of the monument will tend to vary depending on the past state of the fabric and the interventions being carried out. To this end the patina will be harmonized by applying a reversible, light, transparent veiling coat (velatura). This treatment will have a short-term effect, yet it will be sufficient to allow the stone to re-acquire its natural patina.

Restoration of wooden apertures

Great care is being given not to damage the original timber apertures. These are removed and carefully labelled and transported to the workshop. Where applicable, temporary timber apertures are being fixed to provide all the required security. Timber aperture that were characterised by elevated moisture content are being dried until the moisture content is brought down to an acceptable level, in equilibrium with the moisture content of the building where it would be finally returned. Layers of paint will be applied on the extent of the original paint removed. Care would be taken to ensure complete coverage of the surface to be painted, and the paint would be applied to a uniform thickness. Care will also be taken to ensure that all ironmongery remains functional after the paint has dried. Original methods of fixing will be adopted, however, where these are found to contribute to the deterioration of the masonry jambs etc. stainless steel screws will be used to fix the apertures in place.​

Restoration of wrought iron works

Wrought iron works are being carefully cleaned from any oils, loose or damaged paint finishes, rust etc. Where so deemed necessary, repairs are being carried out using materials similar to the original and all new insertions are being worked to designs, dimensions and quality of workmanship similar to the original. As far as is technically possible, the original method of fixing will be adopted.