Save secret park in Lisbon

The Tapada das Necessidades, in Lisbon, at risk of perilous renovation. (Wikipedia)

One of the worst things that can befall a dear old municipal park and garden is for “preservationists” to ride to its rescue. First, it may not be in need of rescue. Second, the preservationists are likely to want to “update” it in ways completely averse to the park’s native personality. That is, if preservationists in Lisbon are anything like preservationists in Providence. (Though that regret is belied by recent, excellent work to renovate Prospect Terrace here.)

“Luncheon in the Grass” (1863), Edouard Manet

Things look bad for Lisbon’s Tapada das Necessidades, which originated in 1742 as a hunting preserve for royalty, and is now the grounds of the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, housed in the Palacio das Necessidades. The Baroque palace was built after the 1755 earthquake and tsunami that wrecked a lot of the old city, including the original palace. In its heyday, the royal garden is said to have inspired Manet’s “Dejeuner sur l’Herbe” (1863), “Luncheon on the Grass,” which is considered by many the first descent of the Expressionists into modernist painting. Or at least that’s what some experts say, though I can scarcely see how by looking at it.

Today, the park is considered a hidden paradise unknown even to Lisbonites (Lisboetas). Here’s a passage from a brief article on a droll website called “Where tto go to,” with the two t’s in the second word rendered as stick people:

As soon as you step inside, you will be greeted by ducks, gooses, abandoned beautiful buildings, exotic plants and trees, and a large playground, picnic area where everyone is at ease.

Elegant bench, with moss, in garden.

Anyway, it does not seem that the Portuguese have done all that much to keep up the park (which may be for the best) and it has fallen into disrepair. But that is no excuse to wreck the place. My correspondent in Lisbon has now furnished me with details of the proposed renovations on its 24 acres, and since part of the plan consists of a tedious modernist building (designed by the regrettable Pedro Reis), a big tot lot to distract children from the park’s natural wonders, and the demolition of the old zoo, it is easy to imagine a host of smaller unnecessary upgrades. For example, renovation of gorgeously articulate park benches bearing such flaws as delicate moss that would need to be expunged, or perhaps replacing the benches altogether with the typical graceless, sterile items, and don’t forget to add arms to prevent people from lying down on them. I am reminded of the Art Nouveau bus kiosks of downtown Providence, now long gone. There are dilapidated little buildings of no discernable use throughout the grounds of this Lisbon park that beg to be left alone. Only the graffiti should be gently extirpated.

Maria Isabel Rocha sums it up beautifully:

As we have seen in other cases, after a time of prolonged neglect, there is an unbridled fury of redoing, instead of recovering and requalifying, for fear of appearing old-fashioned, in the impulse to make modern. The desire to erase the wrinkles of the past, this sterile pretentiousness of change for change’s sake, undoes the sense of belonging and identity. All that remains is the fatuous shine of a few vanities and the nastiness of greed, while nostalgia advances like a shadow over the city, which is increasingly cosmopolitan, increasingly artificial.

The Lisbon city council has received and approved the plan but it is possible that popular dissatisfaction could thwart bringing this misadventure to fruition. Portugal is no longer a monarchy, or so I gather. There is a petition that has gathered some 6,200 signatures in just two weeks. As with many cities in the United States (including Providence), Lisbon seems to be unaware that citizens begging for relief from covid do not need their governments to spend extravagant amounts on unneeded projects of use mainly to architects wanting to burnish their portfolios with work that only their mothers could love.

Let Tapada das Necessidades be Tapada das Necessidades!

Park in foreground with Lisbon spread out in distance.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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5 Responses to Save secret park in Lisbon

  1. Mr. T says:

    Hi all. Let me share that im portuguese, born about 600mtrs from Tapada, went to school there (its a small, very pretty, very fullfilled of all that kids and grown ups should have acess everyday, the green, the biodeversity, noiseless, etc, etc) until my fourth grade. Lived there my teenager ages. Still in ourdays i went there and its really really a lovely unic, magic place, full of historic memories from portugal history also.
    Sad how money buys almost everything, specially politicians.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. TBH says:

    Saw pictures of the park on the travel link you posted. There is a strong sense of romanticism seeing some of those dilapidated and unused structures, which I feel adds to the ambiance of the park in some fashion. Even if there were plans to refurbish or reconstruct some of them with respects to their time and style, that would, I feel, improve the park as well. No doubt adding some Modernist monstrosity will only ruin the place’s value. I’ve been to quite a few parks of different varieties and I can say without hesitation, the “updated” ones are horrendous and completely disrupt from the importance of the natural setting, which is what parks are supposed to be about in the first place. Hope this doesn’t happen to Tapada dad Necessidades, but while the architectural and design worlds are dictated by the crazy acolytes of the Bauhaus, who can tell?

    Liked by 1 person

    • TBH, you should check out a book called “Waterfronts” to see another venue for modernist uglification. I think there were three editions out in the 1990s. Many of the waterfronts were old industrial harbors no longer used, blank slates upon which modernism scribbled its regrettable work. Providence took another direction with a new waterfront that generally respects the city’s past. Thank you, Bill Warner! Of course, the destruction of our city streets and squares worldwide is old news. Why is this still happening?

      Liked by 1 person

      • TBH says:

        “Why is this still happening?”

        David, speaking as an Architect myself (and I’ll toss in that I’m also a millennial) I ask that same question all the time. It’s the indoctrination effect that the architectural education stronghold enforces: that being that Modernism is the well-spring from which all “true” architecture comes, and that everything pre-1919 is inconsequential. I fell for it for a short while back in school, before I started finding flaws in the dogma. I’ll say that I don’t believe all modern architecture to be bad, which is a very slim few, but over the last couple of years I’ve found myself seeing more and more just how poisonous and disruptive the Modern movement has become, and how it has (irreversibly?) wrecked our cities and built environments. Trust me, it’s hard being a “closeted” classicist in a profession that, for the most part, enforces a strict (and rather fascistic) code of adoration to the church of Mies-ism.

        Anyway, I recently came across your blog and I have to say it’s a breath of fresh air to finally read some architectural opinions more in line with my own, for once.

        Thank you for the reading recommendation by the way; I’m always looking to expand my library.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Those are all good answers, TBH, and the ones you always hear, and perhaps they are sufficient explanations, certainly in this day and age. But it seems that it’s not just the emperor marching in a parade with no clothes on denounced by one kid, it’s the emperor marching in a parade up and down every street in every city for three quarters of a century, with not just one kid onto the game but three quarters of the population, probably more, who are onto the game. How have the modernists kept the lid on? I still await a persuasive answer.

          Liked by 1 person

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