The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Garden, built in the 1960s, according to a project by landscape architects António Viana Barreto and Gonçalo Ribeiro Telles, is one of Portugal’s gardens that eloquently mirrors the principles of garden design in modern Portuguese culture.
The following are representative of these principles:
- Continuity between interior and exterior;
- Rupture of imposed axialities;
- Predominance of space design over shape design;
- Social dimension of the garden;
- Presence of ecological and regional aspects;
- Respect for the place’s cultural and historical identity;
- Eulogy of the intrinsic beauty of nature.
An artificial ecosystem
The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Garden is an artificial ecosystem set in a cultural and aesthetic context that offers a space to enjoy and experience nature in an urban context. It was conceived based on a concept and built using techniques and devices that were complex and innovative at the time.
The end result of this work, developed by landscape architects, architects and engineers over a decade, is reflected in a complex, integrated whole where buildings and garden are a single entity.
When presenting the conceptual framework that governed the development of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Garden, Gonçalo Ribeiro Telles stated that the place where that garden would be built, contained the memory of a rural structure, a private garden and a world of sociability determined by the Zoological and Acclimatisation Garden of Lisbon and the People’s Fair that was installed there, during the summer, from 1943 [i].
However, the designers considered that this part of the place’s history was not fertile ground for the new programme that was planned to be implemented in this space in 1960.
Landscape architects chose to break away from the concept, neither in terms of the place nor in its morphology but with the concept of open space fruition.
The design of Santa Gertrudes Park
The formal design of the much outdated Santa Gertrudes Park was transformed into a complex network of densely interwoven spatialities, as MarcTreib points out [ii].
Lakeside, forest and clearing are combined according to the ecological conditions that determine them and according to those established between them, generating a set of intimate and/or social places that welcome users, physically and psychologically transporting them away from the fast-pace, linear time and artificial space that characterizes contemporary urban life.
A refuge from the world
The garden of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation serves as a refuge from the outside world yet it is, nonetheless, an urban space. It does not reject the city and is a participant in the process of the living system that the city constitutes.
The cultural dimension, ecological, morphological and physical characteristics of vegetation, water, light, relief and movement are the guiding principles of the strategy developed by the designers.
With them, a diversity of spatialities crossed by a system of routes that are more like a system of footpaths, are built. It is this system that best expresses the garden’s character.
A succession of shadow and light, sociability and intimacy, clearing, forest and lakeside are surprising and reveal the garden’s character.
The designers took advantage of the physiographic situation (a gentle, north-facing slope that descends from S. Sebastião da Pedreira to Av. de Berna, the former Rego ditch) not only through the dramatization of the slope that the design proposes, either combining it with the use of vegetation – as a surface plane, vertical volume or isolated element – with the physicality of still or moving water and sun exposure.
From the design, with the relief, the vegetation, the water and the light, emerges a sequence of living spaces and paths, near and far perspectives which are revealed as the visitor walks or becomes quiet in this paradise.
The garden’s predominantly monochromatic character requires a close look that reveals fleeting notes of colour, carefully located on a palette of rich greens that act as the background colour where everything happens: the movement of visitors, the reflections of light, the flight and the chirping of birds and the music of the wind.
[ii] Marc TREIB, “Arcadia urbana – a paisagem do Jardim Gulbenkian e outras do seu tempo” in Aurora CARAPINHA, O Jardim, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, FCG. Lisboa, 2005 p.160.