The character of the place

The concept of character of a place derives from the concept of genius loci coined by Greek culture. This concept is one of the fundamental devices in landscape design. It recognizes that each landscape has its own character, a personality of its own that differentiates it from another landscape.

The defining elements of the character of a place are its form, function and history. These three elements, which are determinant in landscape design, refer to living and inert matter and to historical and biological time.

Each place where a landscape is drawn has a story to tell: an ecological story and a cultural story.

Ecological story is built from the different ecological components that relate in that place and determine its morphology, luminosity, atmosphere, a foundational spatiality. From this, one defines a programme, builds and anticipates a future through the project.

The ecological story of the place where the Gulbenkian Foundation Garden is designed epitomizes the north-facing slope where the Garden is located. It is an integral part of the morphological features, generated by the relief, that characterize the city of Lisbon and which, over a long period of time, were being built.

The cultural history can be read in a sequence of spaces that were built on this slope according to the transformations of society and consequently of the city:

Strong elements of this design are:

  • The main axis that connected the palace with the lake.
  • The soft modelling that had been introduced by the construction of the lake and which immediately defined two distinct spatialities, upstream and downstream of the lake. The first, clearly a garden spatiality, the latter a more ambiguous space where the 1941 cyclone caused extensive damage.
  • In the late 19th century, the idea of sociability emerges through the Lisbon Zoological and Acclimation Garden that is installed in the Santa Gertrudes Park between 1866 and 1905;
  • From the period between 1905 and 1915, it inherits the concept of worldliness, which the installation of a velodrome and later, a hippodrome, determines in the Park of Santa Gertrudes;
  • Between 1943 and 1956 the idea of a social space is reinforced by the installation of the Lisbon Popular Fair.

The analysis of the process developed by António Viana Barreto and Gonçalo Ribeiro Telles reveals that these ecological and historical dimensions were embraced by the designers:

  • The plan of the work elements, which give form to the whole design process, expresses the embracement of the ecological place.
  • The pleasant spatiality determined by the presence of water and a rich and diverse tree cover, which is described and represented in various documents, has been rewritten according to the temporal context that defines a new garden design.
  • The structuring axis defined in the 19th century is reinvented in the visual axis that develops from the south facade of the Gallery of Temporary Exhibitions.
  • The static, contained lake, designed by Weiss, reinvents itself in a design where it is ecological logic that guides the project and not the picturesque assumptions of the 19th century.
  • Vegetation is an element of construction of spatialities and is used for its intrinsic aesthetic and ecological value and not just for its exoticism.

Digital archive related to this phase:

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