An innovative way of protecting archaeological sites: The Żejtun Roman Villa as a case-study

The Żejtun Roman villa is one of the three surviving villa sites in Malta that comprise both a residential and industrial area. Since its excavation in the 1970s, the residential part of the villa has been subjected to the elements. The University of Malta and Din l-Art Ħelwa managed to secure funds from the HSBC Malta Foundation to protect the site. The brief was to design a temporary structure to cover the residential part, an area of 75 m2.  

The structure had to be lightweight, fully reversible, easily erected and dismantled, and constructed from readily available materials.  Moreover, it was required that the foundations for this structure would not damage in any way the archaeological site, and had to be located at very specific points. The challenge was to design and produce this structure with a  budget of less than €5,000.

A gridshell structure was chosen since it provides structural stability solely from its geometric shape. Very slender members (PVC pipes) were used in order to allow the structure to be flexible, and to deform into place. It was constructed using many lightweight elements that are easy to handle, as opposed to bulky sections that would require skilled labour and machinery. The temporary nature of the structure did not reduce the need for the assessment of its structural performance. In this case, it was important that no mechanical damage would be caused by movement of the foundations in strong gusts of wind. The intrinsic structural redundancy of this type of structure allows it to carry loads imposed even in these instances.

The jointing system was simpified to the bare essentials, in order to make site-assembly both less cumbersome, and very easy to handle (needing no skilled labour).

The objective of this paper is to describe the design process and material testing of the proposed protective shelter, and its assembly and placing over the archaeological site.

Kane Borg, Claire Carter, Francesca Falzon and Kurt Sammut Alessi 

Faculty for the Built Environment, University of Malta 

Are fourth-year students reading for the degree of Bachelor of Architecture and Civil Engineering (Hons) at the Faculty for the Built Environment, University of Malta.

Prof. Alex Torpiano

is Dean of the Faculty for the Built Environment, University of Malta.

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