Head Office and Garden of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation
Permanent Delegation of Portugal to UNESCO
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The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Head Office and Garden complex opened to the public in 1969. Four decades later, it was classified as the first Portuguese modern National Monument [Decree no. 18/2010, Official Gazette, 1st series, no. 250, of 28-12-2010]. It is a masterpiece of modern architecture and an example of a perfect relationship between interior and exterior landscapes. Responding to an ambitious and complex programme of cultural facilities integrating a varied set of needs, its social and cultural impact helped establish the Foundation’s reputation of prestige and innovation.
The complex embodies the physical materialisation of the intangible heritage represented by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation as a private philanthropic institution, established on 18 July 1956, which was a fundamental enabler of the democratisation of Portuguese society. The panel Começar (Beginning), by Almada Negreiros, a Portuguese modernist artist, in the atrium of the main building, appears as an inaugural symbol of the Foundation and its building, with an obvious institutional and symbolic connotation. Its importance indicates the fundamental physical public presence that the Foundation has assumed in Portugal and abroad, promoting both a reencounter with the Portuguese identity and the modernisation of Portuguese life at different levels, from education to health, from culture to science. Reinforcing an active citizenship, the Foundation, in conjunction with its Head Office, carried out intensive public activity in the democratisation of what was, at that time, a country not just closed to the world but also censured by a retrograde dictatorship. Its long history of grantmaking and direct intervention, both discreet and resounding, generous and democratic, promoted development, literacy and citizenship in the country in a way that few private institutions have managed to do, either at national or international level. The generous gesture by the founder of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation came to have a huge impact on the country. The Foundation undeniably made a contribution to the change that began to take place in Portugal from the 1960s on, especially in the areas of education, the arts, science and health.
The care taken with the material creation of the Head Office is a reflection of this intangible culture, confirmed in the dual function of its architecture: physical in its aesthetic, functional and technical construction; political, in the sense of polis and the construction of a place able to create an intangible, relational and symbolic space, where successive generations of citizens proudly recognise themselves.
The Foundation therefore asserts itself as an intangible space of knowledge and of culture, as a new civic and public space in the city of Lisbon extending the length of the country and, via its external branches, the delegations in Paris and London, to the world. The philanthropic actions carried out thus far are proof of the intangible importance of the Foundation in the building-up of citizenship that is materialized in Foundation’s intervention and the social impact of its actions, which looked to the country, in its democratic way of acting, as a whole and affirmed a synthesised identity in its Head Office building.
Designed between 1959 and 1969 by the architects Alberto Pessoa (1919-1985), Pedro Cid (1925-1983) and Ruy Jervis d’Athouguia (1917-2006), with landscape architects António Vianna Barreto (1924-2013) and Gonçalo Ribeiro Telles (1922), the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Head Office and Garden complex contributed to the affirmation of modernity in the world, combining various aspects of creativity and innovation of human genius. These values are evident in the architectural creation and landscaping, in the structural concept and technical innovations, in the comfort of the spaces resulting from careful detailing: from the interior design to the integration of artworks. Involved in the interiors, decoration and furnishing were a team of architects, designers and artists including Eduardo Anahory (1917-1986), Rogério Ribeiro (1930-2008) and Daciano Costa (1930-2004); Almada Negreiros (1893-1970), João Abel Manta (1928-), Vítor Fortes (1943-), Artur Rosa (1926-), Manuela Jorge (1938 -), and Jorge Barradas (1894 -1971).
In 1959, when the project was selected by an international jury in a closed competition, it marked innovative monumentality. Starting with three basic materials, exposed concrete, stone and glass, submitted to a rigorous architectural plan, the creators manipulated space and light, transforming the complex into an unparalleled work of architectural value, simultaneously distinguished by beauty and by an intimate feel. The perfect proportions of the design, along with its structural logic, constructional precision and programmatic synthesis, contribute to the clear reading and harmony of the space.
The complex is composed of three fundamental volumes which are interlinked with the garden, forming a unique body that includes, as well as the Foundation’s Head Office, the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, the Grand Auditorium, the Congress Centre, the Art Library and the Open Air Auditorium. The construction of the Head Office building and the Garden were regarded as an inseparable whole, a mega structure following the tendencies of the time from abstractionism to minimalism, from metabolism to brutalism, tempered by the enhancement of the landscape.
Established in the Santa Gertrudes Garden, in an area of more than seven hectares [created in the 19th century with exceptional arboreal species, replacing an old recreation farm from the 13th century], today it is a cultural facility of exceptional value located in the centre of the city of Lisbon. The complex is spread over several floors occupying a total area of 64 thousand square metres of which only a third, around 25 thousand square metres, is above ground level, thus taking up only a small area of the garden (14%). To ensure the use of an extensive underground area, a great deal of earth was moved for the purpose of housing the 7 thousand square metre car park, the technical facilities and to ensure an effective circulation linking the entire complex to the Open Air Auditorium located in the middle of the Garden.
The site of the constructed complex, accentuating the higher level platform from which the body of the Head Office rises, is organised according to a sequence of cubic spaces with a double relationship: with the street to the north, with the platform assuming a role of acropolis, with a clear urban sense; and with the park to the south, combining the various volumes and forming an organically constructed body with the land. For this purpose, artificial platforms were created and the terrain was modulated as if it were a topographical sculpture: the roofs of the terrace were devised with consideration to a double relationship: as an extension of the park itself; or, in the opposite sense, as the building’s garden terraces. The Head Office and Museum volumes occupy the northern strip of the plot, located on the “acropolis” that marks the entrance. They develop as two spaces in a “T”-shape with an east-west orientation, with the independent space of the auditorium added to the south overlooking the garden across the lake.
The body of the Head Office is what asserts itself most in the complex of three bodies. It is situated at the highest level of the complex, starting from the level of the oldest preserved eucalyptus, from where the slope of the entrance platform, which is at the same time the gardened roof of the car park, starts. In its function of dominant volume, it is the first view of the Foundation to anyone approaching from outside. A sober, rational, markedly horizontal shape, it is emphasised by its layered appearance, the modular repetition, the precision of the design, and the hardness of the materials, concrete and glass, that shape it. The strict solidarity of the architectural concept gives the structure its expressiveness. To accentuate the monumental expression, the volume is structured according to three slabs of exposed concrete (béton brut), which define the floors and cut out an opening extending the whole length. The nobility of the materials chosen for the window and door frames and the care taken in the production and formwork of the exposed concrete combine in creating the symbolic body of the Foundation. The interior spaces are dealt with on a delicate human scale, with comfortable atriums featuring low and luminous ceilings, which are gently joined by staircases that establish surprising relationships with the Garden.
The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, located to the east of the park, with a different entrance to that of the Head Office building, was developed at a different level to the main entrance and the south side facing the park. The symbolic importance of the space contributed to this: the singularity of the collection, which made it important for a space of distinguished innovation in which to exhibit. The structure develops and interprets this precise geometry, simultaneously incorporating the Museum’s two open, internal courtyards in the centre of the composition. The space connects around the courtyards, guiding the eye to a stimulating variety of outlooks aimed at precise vistas over the park or concentrated on the intimacy of the internal courtyards, where sculptures are shown. The body of the Museum is recognised for the restraint, subtlety and discretion of its presence as part of the whole of the three bodies. Interpreted as a metaphor for the temple, it is a “minimalist” museum-box in the well-defined form of a platonic body, as if suspended over the park. In achieving the effect of suspension, it announces many future attitudes in contemporary architecture. Modern, transparent forms, a free and flexible plan, and spatial interpenetration all combine in defining a new monumentality resulting from the classic proportions enhanced by the pink granite cladding that signals the most singular and beautiful body of the complex, realising the fusion between artwork, architecture and landscape.
The Grand Auditorium is located at the far south of the complex and in the centre of the surrounding park, which protects it from external noise. It is a compact space with great presence, the third “body” of the complex with capacity for 1,228 seated places. The stage has an area of 260 square metres, with a downstage area 13 metres high and 22 metres long. Because of the size and volume this implied, the Auditorium required a complex structural resolution. It was necessary to overcome voids of 27 metres with porticoed beams that, as well as the roof, had to support the paving on the technical floor where the bronze plates that form the roof of the hall were fixed. The stage area became increasingly complex, as it was necessary to suspend the canopy from the upper beam. As well as this, the final portico suspends, for the full length of the stage, a large glass opening devised to communicate visually with the park: the water of the lake functions as a surface of reflection and extension, which combines to reinforce the desire for spatial continuity between the inside and the outside.
The percentage of free ground (86.6%) allowed not just for the maintenance of a large part of the existing vegetation, but also expressively modulating the terrain, determining many of the architectural decisions. The construction thus appears fragmented into volumes that are subtly joined to the ground by means of embedded bases, which make the building appear to be suspended in nature. Testament to the intensive group work carried out, the architectural solution and functioning of the building are intimately linked to the Garden, creating an “aesthetic and biological whole from pre-existing arboreal vegetation and a traditional garden environment that also characterises the site.”
Affirming public motivation and the intangible importance of the Foundation’s activity, the building marks an innovative understanding of the values of monumentality. A monumentality that contains the sense of representation, the value of the symbol, the democratic image able to express the identity of the Foundation through a programme that is civic and cultural, at the same time as being political and ethical. The image of modernity of the Foundation is linked to its architecture as a space organised as a cultural landscape[i], knowingly created by the building and the garden which function as an inseparable whole, like a topographical sculpture.
It is important to mention the exemplary work method employed, which was innovative for the fact that it brought together an extensive work group that incorporated various skills: architects chosen through a competition, national and foreign consultants, and experts in different specialities. Francisco Keil do Amaral and Carlos Ramos were the national architects named by the Foundation to build it, in conjunction with the Brits Sir Leslie Martin (professor at Cambridge University, member of the London County Council and one of the creators of the Royal Festival Hall[i]) and William Allen (architect specialising in lighting and acoustics who had made a name in the area of the Physics of Construction, being a member of the Building Research Station), the Italian Franco Albini (creator of the most recent Italian museological creations, in particular the facilities of the Treasure of San Lorenzo in Genoa), Frenchman Georges Henry Rivière (the ideologist behind the Musée de l’Homme and director of the Conseil International des Musées-ICOM) on the team of permanent consultants.[ii] The passage from plan to work involved a process of research involving this large team, coordinated by the engineer Guimarães Lobato.
Regarded by the first President of the Foundation as a “work of our time, at the same time functional and monumental”[iii], it represents a noteworthy synthesis of the architecture of the modern movement, validating the monumental dimension of an eternal present, simultaneously classic and timeless. In truth, it was a response to an unusual commission for the end the 1950s, when the country was still dominated by a conservative dictatorship, closed to the world and resistant to the values of progress. The Foundation thus emerged unexpectedly in Portugal as a symbol of and place to promote art, education and science. The building thus paid tribute to the identitary image of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, an expression of culture and of social progress.
[i] Architects who, in the late 1940s, dedicated themselves to the modernisation of Portugal and its architectural culture. Ruy d’Athouguia was a prize-winner at the Biennial of São Paulo in 1954 and Gonçalo Ribeiro Telles recently received the Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe Award (2013) from the IFLA (International Federation of Landscape Architects).
[iii] Cf. Wilfried Wang, “A Construção de Uma Paisagem Cultural” (The Construction of a Cultural Landscape), in Ana Tostões (ed.), Sede e Museu Gulbenkian. Arquitectura dos anos 60 (Gulbenkian Head Office and Museum, Architecture of the 60s), Lisbon, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 2006.
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value
The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Head Office and Garden complex has a unique character of exceptional universal value, widely recognised and supported by intellectuals, specialists and artists of worldwide renown. A masterpiece of human creative genius, today it has the status of international icon, representative of a complete work of art that reflects the intangible culture of the Foundation and the inventive energy of its creators in the production of a modern cultural landscape. A paradigm of architecture of the modern movement, this property is included in the DOCOMOMO list of the 100 architectural monuments of the 20th century.
Criterion (i): The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Head Office and Garden complex [henceforth called the Property] is a masterpiece of human creative genius based on a detailed and ambitious programme bringing together diverse valences in one complex.
It is a total work of art that reflects the culture, creative energy and scientific knowledge explicit in the creation of a modern cultural landscape. It brings together in one complex the visual and performative arts, music, science and education, as well as accommodating in its Museum the art collection of exceptional universal value brought together by the benefactor Calouste Gulbenkian. Point of reference and living proof of the concept of modern monumentality, combining public expectations of representative grandiosity with an objective sobriety, staying away from monumental rhetoric: starting from asymmetrical extensions into the landscape, it unites the prosaic construction in béton brut to the ancestry of the granite paving stones, a dialectic between the crude and the refined, between the primary structure and the civilising finish, exemplifying an innovative approach that does not forget Portuguese vernacular tradition.
Simplicity, spirituality and beauty are at the basis of the Head Office and Garden complex, forming a unique body, as synthesis of the artistic expression of modernity. Monumentality results from an architecture carried out with a refined sense of balance, combining the public expectations of representative grandiosity with an objective sobriety, staying away from monumental rhetoric, for asymmetrical extensions into the landscape. The architects gave special emphasis to the dialectic between the crude and the refined, between the primary structure and the civilising construction, exemplifying an innovative approach stemming from Portuguese vernacular tradition. One might say that, inside a space of seven hectares, a whole world was created, a world in miniature, praising the beauty of nature and the work of man. A world where nature was reinvented to include a unique cultural complex. This exceptional microcosm, full of cultural, technical and humanistic references of universal value, represents a masterpiece of creative genius. The enlightened dream of an immediate relationship, inspired by Rousseau and directly evoked by a combination of the natural and the artificial, takes form in this union between architecture and landscape.
It is a work, like few others in the world, in which nature, architecture and man merge together in their highest creative expression, none being dominant over the other, achieving the perfect balance, profoundly humanistic and intercultural, and thus responding to the founder Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian’s desire for supreme beauty.
Criterion (ii): It is a synthesis of a diversity of cultures, influences and the great creativity of the 20th century that decisively influenced the creation of cultural facilities regarded as monuments and modern cultural landscapes. It is the expression of an interchange between European and non-European cultural values, including the founder Calouste Gulbenkian’s own culture of the “eastern Mediterranean”, crossed with “plain Portuguese architecture”[i], in this way bypassing conformation to the International Style. The founder Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian was a character who represented the confluence of diverse cultural traditions, both in his origin and education and in his subsequent experience of life, and who symbolised a natural link between the cultures of Asia and Europe, the East/West binomial that was his own nature and which is today almost an imperative of the Foundation’s activities: the co-existence of cultures.
Stimuli drawn from the activity of Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Roje, le Cobusier, and trends in modern landscape design from Burle Marx to Christopher Tunnard or Isamo Nogushi, to the Japanese Tea Garden, merge with Portuguese culture in a unique and one-off synthesis. The most important trends in architectural thought in the 20th century converge in the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Head Office and Garden: architecture, technology, landscape design and integration of the arts. The Property exemplifies a place of interchange between nature and modern architecture, mirrors advances in botanical science and in the relationship with the constructed space, and combines ideas, techniques and architecture from various sources with Portuguese culture.
The construction of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Head Office and Garden was one of the Foundation’s initiatives that embodied its progressive and democratic approach to the development of culture in Portugal, when the country was still dominated by a dictatorship and presented the lowest social and economic indicators in Europe. It is a monument that bears witness to culture regarded as a springboard of innovation and socio-cultural transformation.
The Property exemplifies a place of interchange between living nature and modern architecture, which are incorporated by means of a free relationship of formulae, revealing intensive formal, technical and spatial experimentation. The Garden mirrors modern advances in botanical science and in the relationship with the constructed space, using elements of environmental composition such as rocks, lakes and monumental sculptures, forming an innovative aesthetic proposal. Architecture and constructed landscape create a living work, a biologically balanced aesthetic whole.
It represents a unique synthesis of the Modern Architecture Movement between constructed landscape and architectural interiors. The language of the architecture becomes abstract and neutral at the point of transforming into a geometric topography, making possible a graduated transition between the constructed landscape and the natural, thus suggesting a continuity between these domains. This is a synthesis that reflects the activity of the early masters, linking the spatial fluidity realised by Frank Lloyd Wright to the expressivity of exposed concrete declared by Le Corbusier to the rigorous detail, the precision of design and the visual value of the materials present in the works of Mies van der Rohe, constructing an original proposal. It therefore constitutes a pioneering work that brings together modern architecture, engineering, art, design and landscape design, achieving the desired “synthesis of the arts” which dominated the architectural culture agenda of the post Second World War period. The result is exceptionally successful, both in terms of its cultural configuration and the level of architectural and aesthetic realisation. It represents an exemplary contribution to modernity and became an emblematic example increasingly recognised as an influential point of reference worldwide.
Criterion (iv): The Property represents synthesis of the modernity between constructed landscape and architectural interiors, mega structure, geometric topography, creating a transition between the built landscape and nature, in continuity. An exceptional microcosm, linking the beauty of nature and the work of man, which brought together an efficient team of more than thirty professionals: creators, national and international consultants, specialists in diverse technical subjects, from acoustics to illumination or the physics of construction, from architecture to landscape, from art to design, all committed to the creation of an architectural and landscaped complex that bears witness to social and cultural values of universal importance.
It is a singular example of teamwork that brought together more than thirty professionals coordinated by an exceptional developer, all acting as an effective team of creators, national and international consultants, specialists in diverse technical subjects, from acoustics to illumination or material physics, all committed to the creation of an architectural complex that bears witness to social and cultural values of universal importance.
It is a unique cultural complex in the world, not just for the density and elegance of its architecture, but also for responding with efficacy and beauty to the diverse functional values it embodies. The highlights of the complex are the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, because of the singularity of the collection and the space, the Grand Auditorium, recognised for its unique atmosphere with a blend of comfort and solemnity that combine to give it prestige as one of the most beautiful auditoria in the world, and the Garden, intimate and magical with its varied botanical and ornithological collection, expressing the paradigm of an exceptional relationship between man and the environment. Internal and external spaces complement each other with beautiful objects of art, excellent finishing touches and careful interior design, forming a complete and beautiful whole, a complete work of art.
Like the spatial richness of the interior, made of contrasts of light and varied, surprising views to the outside, the Garden is created from rich and diverse arboreal species organised in masses and contrasts, resulting in a landscape that stimulates the visitor to discover the most beautiful revelation in the world.
Expressing values of tranquillity, clarity, spatial fluidity and the opening of a monument to the outside world, the Property bears witness to social and political history, advances in technology and architectural culture, embracing timeless values. As a whole, it represents a unique synthesis of cultural traditions, universal architectural heritage, which transcends the genius loci and the time in which it was created.
Criterion (vi): Culture and, in particular, architecture and landscape design were able to anticipate, in the midst of the political system of the dictatorship of the Estado Novo, the cultural modernisation of Portuguese society, signalling with the creation of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Head Office and Garden complex the free and democratic world that would only be realised with the end of the regime in 1974. All the Foundation’s activity initiated since then, stimulating international relationships through the support of the of Portuguese scholarship students abroad, from arts to sciences, in the principal world centres of research, undertaking philanthropic activity or promoting art and science, in a register of cultural contemporaneity the like of which was unknown at that time, would soon be mirrored and confirmed in this work offered up to the use of the community. Inside this landscape, a planned environment of natural and artificial topography, of hard and soft modelling, of spaces and forms linked visually and sensorially, the diffusion of culture was understood by the public as a generous and deliberate “offering”, thus inverting the secular tradition of cultural values imposed doctrinally.
With the country’s progressive development, its democratisation and integration into the European Community, the Foundation’s role was progressively redefined: new priorities were inscribed in a changing international framework and, in respect of global matters, such as the promotion of equal opportunities and the sustainability of society, with a national focus that still took advantage of the opportunities stemming from the fact that the Foundation works from bases in three countries and is involved in international networks. The Foundation continues a role of advocacy to try to influence public policies in Portugal in areas it considers priorities for the wellbeing of Portuguese society, namely in the areas of education and health. The Foundation also assumes the role of a think tank, to help plan the future, collaborating actively with other foundations, universities, cultural creators and scientists, social partners and third sector entities. In science, the Foundation runs a research institute, the Gulbenkian Science Institute, a truly international body, with around 400 researchers of more than 30 nationalities, which in the last 10 years has produced more than 30% of the Portuguese articles on biomedical science published in the best scientific magazines. In the social area, the main priorities are aimed at contributing to the resolution of the problems of the most fragile communities, such as the integration of immigrants, support for the most elderly, who are those who suffer most from loneliness, or children at risk, investing in the creation of close relationships between institutions in the area, the families and the State itself.
As well as synthesis of architecture, technology and modern landscape design, the Foundation Head Office and Garden complex is also mirrored in the Foundation’s innovative activity associated with events and experiences that bear witness to ideas and objectives of exceptional universal value, responding not just to criteria (i; ii; iv), but also to criterion (vi).
Statements of authenticity and/or integrity
Given that all the fundamental physical components of the original complex have undergone no significant changes, the work satisfies the required conditions of integrity and authenticity. The Property conserves its essential physical components: building, open spaces, circulation, parking areas, landscape design and art works. These functions have not changed over time.
The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Head Office and Garden complex was the first modern work to be honoured with the classification of National Monument, in 2010, under the mantle of Portuguese Heritage Legislations (Ministry of Culture), including the surrounding protected area. All the elements necessary to demonstrate the Property’s heritage values are located within the boundaries of the property and the surrounding zone, in the context of its classification as a National Monument. Inclusion on the National Heritage list limits any action proposed within or outside the boundaries of the classified property that endangers its heritage values.
Since the opening of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Head Office and Garden complex, the Foundation has created within its framework services responsible for the maintenance and conservation of the Property. In this way, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Head Office and Garden complex has been preserved with great respect to the structure, materials, furniture, objects, art collections, Garden and Library.The process of wear and tear on the Property has been controlled by means of regular and rigorous plans of maintenance and rehabilitation, begun in 1999, the year when the complex celebrated thirty years of use. It was patient and painstaking work, starting with the renovation of the Museum, which included the documental study of the history of the construction of the buildings and the garden, shared with experts and the general public by means of publications and exhibitions. Over fifteen years, garden, buildings and internal spaces were restored in an attempt to promote comfort and guarantee security, in activity that was respectful of the quality and character of the complex. Intervention in the Grand Auditorium formed the final phase of this programme. The undeniable quality of its design and construction, as well as the constant maintenance, prevented the inevitable consequences of the passage of time. However, both in terms of wear and tear of materials and the parameters of comfort, and the satisfaction of current security regulations, it was imperative to carry out interventive work. The preservation of the essence and excellence of the space involved restoration and rehabilitation work, and was therefore very conservative from a formal and material point of view, with only essential alterations that respected technique and infrastructure taking place.
All the interventions were carried out in absolute respect of the rules of the original design and the existing principles of construction. From the point of view of form and design, the materials and substance, localisation and installation, use and function, as well as the spirit and atmosphere of the spaces, the Property remains a complex of great authenticity and integrity. Constantly occupied and used, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Head Office and Garden complex has remained throughout time a lively place open daily to the public. The physical, material and spatial components express, therefore, the originality of the historical, cultural and social values of the complex, its authenticity and integrity.
Comparison with other similar properties
The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Head Office and Garden form the only large-scale cultural complex with diverse values constructed after the Second World War where the public can interact in an informed way with culture in a broad-ranging landscape framework.
The creation of cultural facilities has dominated the agenda since the second half of the 20th century and is at the basis of the concept of the welfare state, which emerged in this period of history in the western world. Therefore, in the period following the Second World War, the task of keeping steady the forces of economic rationalism with the liberating and critical dimension of the arts emerges as one of the missions of the authorities in those times of reconstruction and creation of a better world. Several cities focused their attention on the creation of cultural and artistic centres. With this objective, some projects began to take shape in the post-war years: in London, the South Bank Centre (constructed around the Royal Festival Hall, the work of Robert Matthew and Leslie Martin, completed in time for the Festival of Britain, in 1951); in New York, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (started by Robert Moses in 1955, and practically finished by 1969, according to the plans of a series of reputed architects); in West Berlin, with the Kulturforum (built around the Philharmonie, work of Hans Scharoun, 1963); in Stockholm, with the Kulturhuset (competition of 1965; concluded in 1974 according to plans by Peter Celsing, under the directives of Pontus Hultén, who later would become the first director of the Centre Pompidou), which preceded the Centre Pompidou (competition of 1970; concluded in 1976 according to plans by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano), in Paris, to name the most important.
In this context, the case of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Head Office and Garden complex takes on an exceptional character for being the result of private financing and because its intentions, scale and ambition surpass the programme of the previously mentioned cultural centres that are its contemporaries. It should be noted that since the outset, the Property has included a museum, a temporary exhibition gallery, a library, a concert hall for the resident orchestra, choir and dance company, facilities for conferences and an open air amphitheatre, and the complex is set in a garden of generous landscapes and open to the public. Given the extent and scale of these facilities, the designation “cultural complex” is justified, especially when compared to the many cultural centres with lesser programmatic ambition being created worldwide during the second half of the 20th century.
One might certainly argue that the Property could be compared to the Getty Center, in Los Angeles (1984-1997), which constitutes a cultural centre inserted into a landscape. Due to the demands of Richard Meier’s project, however, the landscape was transformed to such an extent that the original slope disappeared. Although works on the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Head Office and Garden complex did modulate the topography of the site, the gradual nature of the place, the maintenance of levels, trees and pre-existing plants in combination with the dominant vegetation, were determining factors for a result that remained harmonious with the landscape. In the case of the Getty Center, the alterations made to the landscape were so decisive – chiefly to guarantee a clear view of the centre and the view from it – that the surrounding vegetation would have found it difficult, with the passage of time, to challenge the vast and dominant structure. Reference to the Sydney Opera House (opened in 1973), one of the key works of modernity recognised as World Heritage, is equally pertinent although the single functionality of its programme (Auditorium) and the iconographic formalisation of Utzon’s work are factors of an approach to construction based on the relationship of the architecture with the surrounding Sydney bay.
With the start of the new millennium, some of the concerns that motivated Pessoa, Cid and d’Athougiua in the late 1950s and early 60s have returned. References to the great works of modern architecture that have been recognised in the meantime as world heritage are recognisable, from the Gropius’s Bauhaus school in Dessau to Villa Tugendhat by Mies van der Rohe, to name a couple of examples. The neutrality of architecture explicit in the project for the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Head Office and Garden has allowed the complex of buildings to maintain their cultural efficacy, offering inspiration to those interested in architecture, who recognised the intellectual rigour, the skill of the composition, the attention to detail and the superb execution.
The ethical imperative embodied by architecture with a material presence, as is the case with Pessoa, Pedro Cid and Ruy Jervis d’Athouguia’s cultural complex, unequivocally places the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in the group of progressive institutions that demonstrate confidence in humanity and its civilising processes. As is broadly documented, this attitude was not obvious in the 1950s, and indeed it still is not now, in the second decade of the 21st century. This fact does not just confirm the singularity and excellence of the Property, but also heightens the visionary pertinence of the Foundation’s choice of this calm and dense architecture that represents its intangible activity. The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Head Office and Garden complex has provided important services to the arts, education and science in the form of a consistent and elegant architectural structure.
The recognition of the exceptional universal value of the Property will certainly contribute to the complexity and elegance of its architecture being appreciated and understood by a public tired of gratuitous spectacle, and in this respect increasingly maturing through a gradual and continued aesthetic education.