The Character of the Place

Genius loci

The concept of character of a place derives from the genius loci concept coined by Greek culture, this concept is one of the fundamental tools in landscape design. It recognizes that each landscape has its own character, a personality of its own that sets it apart from any other landscapes.

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

Each place where a landscape is designed has a history: an ecological and a cultural history.


Ecological History

Ecological history is built based on the places’ different ecological components that determine its morphology, luminosity and atmosphere, a foundational spatiality. Based on this, a programme is defined, built and a future is anticipated through the project.

The ecological history of the place where the Garden of the Gulbenkian Foundation is designed is synthesized on the slope facing north where the Garden is located. It is an integral part of the morphological characteristics, generated by the relief, that characterize the city of Lisbon and that over a long time, were constructed.


The Cultural History

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

Strong elements of this design are:

  • The main axis linking the palace and the lake.
  • The abundance of vegetation.
  • The gentle modelling that was introduced by the construction of the lake and which immediately defined two distinct spatialities, upstream and downstream of the lake. The first markedly had the spatiality of a garden; the second, was a more ambiguous space where the 1941 hurricane caused widespread damage. 

  • From the end of the 19th century, the idea of sociability emerges with the Jardim Zoológico e de Aclimação de Lisboa, which was installed in the Santa Gertrudes Park between 1866 and 1905;
  • The period between 1905 and 1915 inherits the concept of worldliness, which the installation of a velodrome and later, a racetrack, in the Santa Gertrudes Park;
  • Between 1943 and 1956, the  social space idea was reinforced by the installation of the Lisbon Popular Fair.


The character of the place in the Garden’s design

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

  • The work elements plan, which provides information on the whole design process, expresses an understanding 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 several 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 southern façade of the Temporary Exhibitions Gallery.
  • The static, contained lake, designed by Weiss, is reinvented in a drawing where it is the ecological logics that guide the project and not the picturesque assumptions of the 19th century.
  • The vegetation, element of spatial construction, is used for its intrinsic aesthetic and ecological value and not just for its exoticism.


Documents of this phase


Updated on 09 september 2019

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