Save secret park in Lisbon – David Brussat

by David Brussat, Architecture Here and There, contributing writer on architecture

Photo: 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 tusami that wrecked much 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 to 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), and 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.

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 5,800 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.

Park in foreground with Lisbon spread out in distance

Let Tapada das Necessidades be Tapada das Necessidades!


David Brussat

My freelance writing and editing on architecture and others 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