The antiporta is an inner door prevalent in Maltese homes – which simultaneously provides privacy and accessibility to those on either side. Veronica Stivala steps inside this often-overlooked architectural characteristic, which is rapidly disappearing from our architectural landscape.
With its wooden skeleton, its delicate glazing, and characteristic bell, the antiportais a ‘welcome’ sign, it’s the space and location of an initial greeting, a conversation starter, while also a convenient shelter from the scorching sun or pelting rain.
Yet with the advent of mass-produced, frameless glass panes and intercom buzzers preceding communal entrances, the quasi-spiritual experience of entering a building so eloquently presented by the antiportabecame a very clinical affair, and with time is slowly being phased out of Maltese buildings.
In an attempt to salvage the memory of this architectural feature, Chris Briffa Architects have engaged themselves in a research work and an exhibition, which is on at the Venice Architecture Biennale (running till November 24, 2018), and which will then move to Malta after that.
Although a feature of Maltese houses, glass ante-doorshave been a standard feature in many buildings all over Europe, particularly in public buildings such as churches. But, notes Chris Briffa, who is leading the project, “in Malta it has taken an interesting twist in that pretty much every Maltese house, big or small, in town or in the village, had to have one of these artefacts. One could say that it was inconceivable that any Maltese house built between the 18th and late 20th century would be designed without the antiporta; which was always followed by the intrata(entry hall), in turn leading to the salott(formal sitting room) and eventually to the rest of the house. This symbolic procession of invitation (when the main door is left open), privacy (the choice of glass or laced curtains), entry (the low level brass door knob), alarm (the chimes and bells) and eventual review of the intrata spokevolumes of the home, its inhabitants and their social status.”
In addition to its architectural idiosyncrasies, the creative group of professionals, artists and architects behind the project were also interested in the social dimension of the antiporta. “The antiportapresented a negotiation between public and private space that for long characterised the encounters on our streets. Through its enclosure it hosted stories of familiarity as it was the backdrop to every event the building would host,” explains Briffa.
The exhibition focuses on the antiporta’s manufacturing, with investigation into the attachment that local practitioners have to their craft. In parallel, they documented the nostalgia attributed to this piece, through filming the personal stories people have to describe of their own antiportaand using footage of antiportiacross the island which showcase so well the social interactions we were interested in. “The way people communicate across the glazing and with people they might not be familiar with, is fascinating,” observes Briffa, adding how “all this was enabled through the construction of the antiporta: it talks of a society very different to the compartmentalised and divided, alienated and individual of the contemporary; it talks of a time when the intrigue of encounter fostered new temporary and less temporary relationships and connections.”
Sadly the antiportais a fast-fading feature of Maltese houses, a reflection of our changing living habits: “Our modes of living have changed, and with them our ability to encounter and socialise; our perception of safety and shelter, and our time to linger and invite. Contemporary living dictates that the door is shut upon entry and there is barely any negotiation between in and out. This presents dead frontages, doorscapes that don't relate to our curiosity in the same way they did so short a time ago,” laments Briffa.
While the team’s first task is about creating awareness, and shifting the spotlight back on this local relic, their long-term direction is to stir away from nostalgia and look ahead towards its next chapter. “How can one re-interpret its multiple functional, social and fundamental layers and present it within a new perspective is what we are now asking ourselves. Perhaps this project, like our Gallarija Miftuha, will eventually lead to a new prototype to extend the relevance, and ultimately the lifetime, of this beautiful artefact.”
Antiporta: A Fading Negotiation is on at Palazzo Mora, Venice, till November 24, 2018.
This article originally appeared in Bizzilla magazine.