Towards a New Monumentality: The Creation of an Urban Cultural Landscape Cover Image
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Towards a New Monumentality: The Creation of an Urban Cultural Landscape
Towards a New Monumentality: The Creation of an Urban Cultural Landscape

Author(s): Ana Tostões
Subject(s): Fine Arts / Performing Arts
Published by: Historický ústav SAV, v. v. i.
Keywords: architecture; landscape design; post-war modern movement; new monumentality; heritage protection;Lisbon;

Summary/Abstract: The Lisbon headquarters and park of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (FCG), located in the Parque de Santa Gertrudes, created the public image of the Gulbenkian Foundation: an expression of culture that became synonymous in Portugal with social progress and thus a sign of a new monumentality. This aspiration was defined at the outset by its commissioner, the chairman of the foundation, José de Azeredo Perdigão (1896 – 1993), and brought to fruition by an extensive team of technical staff, through a process lasting from 1956 until its opening in 1969. Alberto Pessoa (1919 – 1985), Pedro Cid (1925 – 1983) and Ruy Jervis d’Athouguia (1917 – 2006), the architects of the building complex, together with the landscape architects António Viana Barreto (1924 – 2012) and Gonçalo Ribeiro Telles (1922 –), translated Calouste Gulbenkian’s legacy into a modern version of an epic cultural landscape. Within this landscape, best described as a designed environment of natural and manmade topography, of hard and soft landscaping, of interlocking spaces and forms, the diffusion of culture has been understood by the public as a voluntary “offering”, reversing the enshrined tradition of imposed, doctrinaire cultural values. Involving art, architecture and landscaping, the built ensemble anticipated the modernisation of Portuguese society, which was still immersed in the dictatorial regime of Antonio Salazar’s Estado Novo. The creation of the Gulbenkian Foundation hinted at the free and democratic world that would only become a reality for Portugal after 1974. Everything in the realm of culture undertaken by the Foundation up to that point – which included scholarships that enabled Portuguese active in the arts or sciences to work in the main research hubs of the world, as well as social assistance and support of the arts and sciences within Portugal – had been steeped in a discourse of modernity still unknown to the Portuguese until that time. This new discourse would spread as the Foundation’s work began to benefit the community. The expression “when ‘modern’ was not a style but a cause”, frequently used to express the transforming power of architecture, gained particular significance in the Portugal of the 1960’s, because the Gulbenkian Foundation was indeed a “cause” of culture and was understood to be an engine of urban progress. As such, the Gulbenkian Building and Park signalled a new understanding of the values of monumentality, even on an international level. The concept of a monument that conveys from within itself a sense of representation, symbolic value, creates an architectural image that conveys a civic, cultural, political and ethical agenda. As initially conceived, the building was meant to be a mega-structure that blended into the surrounding park, in line with the foundation’s image and the precepts that guided the design of the building: space organized like an urban cultural landscape; created as a mega-structure both by the building and the park that extends it, and functioning as a whole much like a topographic sculpture capable of bringing together modernity and monumentality. In the post-war period, the attempt to establish a “new monumentality” endeavoured to pass beyond the modern dogma that claimed: “if it’s a monument it can’t be modern, and if it’s modern it can’t be a monument”. In their efforts to find a blend of monumental expression and progressive ideology, modern architects began to realise that it was necessary to include collective symbolic content into the new aesthetics, seeking to revive monumentality as “the human expression of the most elevated collective cultural desires”. The organisation CIAM (Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne) itself undertook to debate issues relating to community, the value of links with tradition, and the renewed importance of rebuilding the “heart of the city” as recalled in 1951 at the VII CIAM convention in Hoddesdon. Responding to this need for re-centrality, for creating spaces that could, through their use and function, constitute urban anchors, the creative, liberating and actively critical dimension of the arts came to be seen as playing a balancing role in urban societies. Hence, the strategy for the reconstruction of the post-war city made investments in cultural programmes capable of redefining the centrality of urban life. It was in this context that the question of arts or cultural complexes – and accordingly, the search for an image that could function as an urban reference for the new era – dominated the agenda in eastern and western European countries in the late 1950s. The issue was very much one of defining a new monumentality – in other words, a monumentality that embodied development and contemporaneity. As a result, a number of such projects began to emerge in the post-war years: London received the South Bank Arts Centre, built around the Royal Festival Hall (1951, Robert Matthew and Leslie Martin); in New York it was the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (1955 – 1969, Harrison, Johnson and Abramowitz); in West Berlin, the Kulturforum complex centred on Hans Scharoun’s Philharmonie (1957 – 1963); Stockholm acquired the Kulturhuset (1965, Peter Celsing); Helsinki received the Kulttuuritalo (1955 – 1958) and the Finlandia-Talo (1967 – 1971), both designed by Alvar Aalto; and Le Havre gained the Musée des Beaux-Arts (1958 – 1961, Lagneau and Audigier). A strikingly similar process occurred, almost in parallel, with great intensity in the former Soviet Bloc cities as well, presenting a typology of abstract forms to project an international and progressive image. The Houses of Culture built throughout the countries of the Soviet Bloc in the 1960s are an eloquent example of the search of a new monumentality: to cite some of the Slovak projects, namely the Agriculture University in Nitra (1961–1966; Vladimír Dedeček, Rudolf Minovský) or the Slovak Cultural Society: Matica Slovenská in Martin (1962 – 1975, Dušan Kuzma, Anton Cimmermann). As Henrieta Moravciková states in her contribution “Monumentality in Slovak architecture of the 1960s and 1970s”, these “works that appeared from the end of the1950s are much more expressive in the context of Slovak architecture” arguing that “an evolutionary ‘shift of the boundaries of possible things’ intended to reform the political establishment into the so-called ‘socialism with a human face’. Nevertheless, architectural change in specific circumstances could bring real social changes” as happened under one of the remaining fascist dictatorships in the “Lisbon Cultural Centre”. In the Portuguese context, reconstruction projects were funded or subsidised by the central or local governments. The fact that the “Lisbon Cultural Centre” was to be financed privately by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation made it something of an exception, even if its intentions, scale and ambition were similar to its contemporaries...

  • Issue Year: 49/2015
  • Issue No: 3-4
  • Page Range: 240-257
  • Page Count: 18
  • Language: English