Openness: The case of the Valletta Design Cluster

Valletta should be a unique experience, open to all. This is Valletta 2018’s key vision for the bustling capital. A group of people focused on making this a reality is the Valletta Design Cluster team. Located at the Old Abattoir site in Valletta, the initiative is going to create a community space for cultural and creative practice. Words by Caldon Mercieca.

According to Anna Wicher from the PDR International Centre for Design and Research, design is ‘an approach to problem-solving that can be applied across the private and public sectors to drive innovation in products, services, society and even policy-making by putting people first.’ This people-centred approach to design is not just a theoretical framework, but a concrete method that engages people in a co-creative process. 

By bringing together people active in the cultural and social spheres, we want to have a concrete and meaningful impact on Malta’s diverse communities. We aim to provide support for students, start-ups, and creative enterprises and give social groups the necessary tools to empower those with different interests who nonetheless share the common purpose of using creativity for the social good. We also want to provide a new networking space for everyone. From students, to cultural and creative professionals, to residents, budding businesses and civil society groups, everyone will be welcomed at the Valletta Design Cluster.  

This philosophy of openness and diversity is one that has permeated every aspect of the project from the very beginning. Over the past three years, we have consulted with residents, students, schools, higher education institutions, artists, makers, and creatives to build the vision for the space. A range of public and independent organisations are also contributing to the project, providing both expertise and generous support. 

Work in progress at the Valetta Design Cluster

Thanks to the support from the European Regional Development Fund, the physical space for the Cluster as well as the urban public spaces around it are currently undergoing serious regeneration. Once finished, the Cluster will have a range of facilities, which were decided on following consultation with potential users. It will include a makerspace, coworking spaces, studios, a food-space, several meeting rooms and conference facilities, an exhibition space, and a public roof garden. All of these facilities have benefitted from input contributed by various potential users, by residents, and by organisations that have been interacting regularly with the team working on the Valletta Design Cluster. 

We believe that a community can only truly reach its potential when it opens itself up to collaborations which share a common goal. This does not mean turning a blind eye to the challenges faced by the community on a daily basis, or to the ever-evolving scenario that surrounds it, but rather cultivating a readiness to learn, an aptitude to develop networks built on trust, and a capacity to address problems with a practical, positive, can-do attitude. 

One valuable experience we are developing with our community stakeholders is Design4DCity. This annual initiative, which the Valletta Design Cluster team started back in 2016, sees creatives, residents, and local authorities joining forces to rework and improve a public space. We worked with the Valletta community in 2016, and continued with the Birżebbuġa community in 2017. In 2018 we plan to work again in Birżebbuġa as well as in Siġġiewi, and will involve children and young people in our public space projects. Such initiatives are providing very important insights into the application of collaborative, co-creative approaches involving multiple stakeholders. 

But the work of the Valletta Design Cluster is not restricted to the restoration or transformation of space. For the past three years, we have collaborated with the Malta Robotics Olympiad, teaming up with artistic curators and student organisations from the University of Malta (UM) to design and construct the pavilion for Valletta 2018. By the end of the project, participants had constructed a fully-recyclable 300 square meter pavilion and presented it to the public. This year we also supported SACES, the architecture students’ association at the UM, through a number of design and construction workshops. Branching out, we have done work with a number of creatives from various backgrounds in projects involving video-capture, artifact-curation, narrative development linked to cultural identities, and flexible use of available space through appropriately constructed spatial modules. 

Several workshops have also been held where project stakeholders were fully involved in training sessions, with the aim of building skills in user-centred design, applied to specific contexts. This meant interacting with students, researchers, creatives, residents, and organisations in developing what the Cluster can offer. One tool used in this process is the construction of a user persona, where the characteristics, interests and concerns of the user are gathered through interaction with potential users of a service. Students from a number of faculties have also provided their input in this process through dedicated workshops at the UM.

They also stressed that the Cluster needed to serve as a catalyst for networking and for strengthening entrepreneurial skills for people working in the creative sector.

All of this has become possible thanks to continuous collaboration and international networks which have contributed their resources to our projects. To assist us in this, the Valletta 2018 Foundation has joined Design4Innovation, an Interreg Europe project bringing together eight European countries all working towards using design to benefit society. 

While we have been on the receiving end of a lot of support, translating our philosophy of openness into practice involved an element of risk. During a series of tours that we organised on site for potential users of the Cluster, we had to be open to various views and perspectives about what the Cluster could be. Participants highlighted issues related to accessibility and affordability as key concerns. They also stressed that the Cluster needed to serve as a catalyst for networking and for strengthening entrepreneurial skills for people working in the creative sector. In some cases, we had to revisit some of our plans and open new discussions with the architects to made adjustments. On other occasions, we called people in again to discuss their ideas further and see how we could integrate their suggestions into our vision. 

Although we speak of cultural and creative industries, we should realise that the average number of people working in any single company is two. Indeed, 40% of designers in Malta are actually freelancers. The challenge for the Valletta Design Cluster here is to ensure flexibility and adaptability both in the physical infrastructure as well as the management of the Cluster. In this way, we can make the facility relevant for our users’ current needs, as well as cater to future ones. 

The next stage in understanding our community of potential users better is to work together on the creation of a Design Action Plan. The Design Action Plan will highlight concrete actions to be undertaken by the Cluster during the first three years of its operation. It will serve as the main reference tool to structure the Valletta Design Cluster’s interaction with its community of users, practitioners, enterprises, and beneficiaries. Based on this open process, the Valletta Design Cluster aims at establishing itself as a new community-driven platform for cultural and creative practice in Malta.  

Author: Caldon Mercieca

Reinventing our campus

The University of Malta is a second home to thousands of students, academics, researchers, and staff. The question is: Is the Msida campus being used to its fullest potential to welcome and serve all these people? Following the M.Arch program at the Faculty for the Built Environment, a group of students turned their critical gaze towards the spaces in and around the Msida campus to answer this question.

There is no special formula for producing a design strategy. It is equal parts critical thinking and creativity. However, there is a key truth that helps frame things for designers: create the space as though you are using it yourself. In this case, the students were already users. As a result, they designed solutions for campus spaces wearing not only a ‘student hat’ but a ‘design, user and evaluator’ hat. They thought of planning tools, SMART objectives, space, and evaluation standards. They also considered the ‘eight dimensions of product quality management: performance, features, reliability, conformance, durability, serviceability, aesthetics, and perceived quality. 

The designs show how spaces should reflect the way people really want to use them.

In the end, student Alison Galea brought life back into the light well inside the Faculty for the Built Environment, turning it into a student hangout area with a lounge and relaxation room. Jessica Galea re-visited the outdoor space at the science lecture theatre to make way for some creative outdoor furniture and futuristic shapes intended for breaks between lectures. Brandon Saliba re-thought the Quad ditch, introducing new seating with versatile materials and better-managed spaces, perhaps encouraging others to soak in the summer sun during the end of semester time, preempting the much-needed summer break. 

The designs show how spaces should reflect the way people really want to use them. Once designers place themselves as users in the centre of the project and build solutions around those needs, the gap between design for its own sake and design used to make change begins to close. 

Author: Dr Rebecca Dalli Gonzi

The limits of noise

Of the astronomical phenomena, we can witness with our own eyes, a solar eclipse is one of the most spectacular. This phenomenon was used early in the 20th century to prove Einstein’s new theory of gravity. As light passes around a celestial object, its path is bent exactly as predicted by Einstein’s theory.

When researchers compared the amount light that was bent by large clusters of galaxies with the observed mass of the galaxies, they found that there was a discrepancy of over a factor of 1000, giving birth to the phenomenon known today as dark matter.

Deandra Cutajar

The distortions of galaxy shapes by large masses, provide astronomers with a tool to construct a dark matter map and its distribution in the universe we observe. Images captured using telescopes are analysed carefully to understand the distortions of galaxies due to the presence of dark matter lenses. However, in practice this is a very arduous task because telescopes suffer both from electronic noise as well as atmospheric distortions, so throughout my PhD, I investigated how the noise present in astronomical images could contribute to the distortion of galaxy images and also introduce errors in our maps of dark.

Under the supervision of Prof Kristian Zarb Adami, I applied Bayesian inference to determine the correct measurements of galaxy shapes. However, since the variations in the shape and size of galaxies due to lensing is very small, the measurement of dark matter is extremely difficult. Only novel statistical methods developed within a consistent Bayesian framework allow us to extract the maximum amount of information in such difficult scenarios.

Unfortunately, the application of the new methods in my Ph.D. have shown results that are similar to those reported by other researchers, with the techniques failing to provide the desired accuracy. Nonetheless research goes on, unravelling more mysteries and questions that still need answers.

 

On Qubes and the pockets that fit them

As far as tech trends go, smaller is almost always better. The team behind the University of Malta’s first ever PocketQube satellite agree-—–except when it comes to their ambitions. Cassi Camilleri speaks to Dr Ing. Marc Azzopardi, Darren Cachia, and Jonathan Camilleri to determine how work is progressing ahead of their 2018 space launch.

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Extreme stars unlock gravitational secrets

Our understanding of gravity has changed over the years and will likely continue to as researchers arm themselves with new ideas tested by increasingly sophisticated technology. Dr Jackson Levi Said, Mark Pace, and Filippos Nachmias (University of Malta [UoM]) tell THINK more about their mission to unlock gravity’s secrets from neutron stars.

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Analysing Alice: Finding order in chaos

With every particle collision in the ALICE experiment, a terabyte of data per second is generated for analysis. But not all of it is essential information. David Reuben Grech speaks to Dr Gianluca Valentino and Dr Johann A. Briffa about their work in separating the wheat from the chaff and removing noise from two of ALICE’s 18 subdetectors.

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Curious matters

 Society is built on curiosity; the drive to find answers to life’s abounding questions. This curiosity continues to fuel our brightest minds today. Cassi Camilleri talks to ALICE experiment leader Prof. Paolo Giubellino about his work at CERN and how it impacts our daily lives.

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Meet the research team

Prof. Ing. Edward Gatt & Dr Ing. Owen Casha – Faculty of ICT

Physicist Dr Giacinto De Cataldo (Head of the HMPID detector) got in touch with Gatt and Casha to work on two microelectronics projects for CERN. Their first project was the O2 Project—a series of upgrades for the ALICE experiment. One of upgrades focuses on improving the Ring-Imaging Cherenkov detector (RICH), found in the HMPID detector, a device that identifies the type of electrically charged particles being emitted by the detector. The second project is the implementation of a Remotely Configurable L0 Trigger Fan-out Module for the ALICE Detector. It involves the clocking management of the ALICE detector with high precision. This research could also be used in consumer telecommunication systems, improving radio frequency circuits’ performance. Finally, Gatt is researching how to improve chip designs used to detect physical phenomena from particle collisions with the aim of making them more intelligent and power-efficient.


Kevin Napoli – Computing CERN Openlab Student

 kevin-napoli“My summer experience at CERN was remarkable. The sharing of knowledge among students and researchers was the highlight of the trip. During the openlab programme we attended lectures about security, machine learning, computer hardware, software optimisation and lots more, many of which are topics not covered at our home university. We also played a role in the ALICE experiment and I worked on my project alongside top notch computer scientists. Another positive aspect of the programme were the various trips to companies and universities in Switzerland. Being able to say that I have worked at CERN is something I will value throughout my career.”


Julia Vella – Physics CERN Summer Student

julia-vellaʻThe months spent at CERN for the summer student internship programme were not only an invaluable experience, but also an insight to future potential careers for my colleagues and I. Based within the HMPID detector of the ALICE experiment, we had a six-week lecture program focused on the fundamental properties of nature. The bulk of the work we were involved in centred on implementing programming languages to process raw data from collisions into useful knowledge. Geneva provided a change of pace for us that was conducive to both hard work and extra curricular activities. Travelling across borders, visiting main projects and control centres at CERN, while also socialising with students from all over the globe, made it an all-encompassing experience not easily matched.ʼ


Josef Magri – M.Sc. Student

josef-magriThe HMPID takes snapshots of the faint patterns generated by the high-energy collisions, passing this information through the RICH electronics module which cleans and transforms it for analysis. Magri is working to optimise the electronic circuits and control boards to improve how data is handled. So far, he has manipulated computer processes to create parallelism, allowing for processes that previously happened one after the other to occur simultaneously. He also used high-throughput interconnects, which, when coupled with parallelism, are expected to increase data collection tenfold. Magri’s work will be combined with that of other researchers and integrated by 2020 in order to improve the detector’s accuracy, potentially revealing building blocks of matter that might have yet to be seen.


Clive Seguna – Ph.D. student

clive-segunaWorking in close collaboration with Magri, Seguna is developing novel electronic circuitry for the CPV and HMPID detectors, that will boost the speed at which collisions are read, going from 4 kHz to 50 kHz, the speed at which the beams interact: true real time. Seguna’s research will be taken on at CERN between 2020–2023.