The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum must be one of the most physically self-effacing public art collections anywhere. Its location, north of central Lisbon in a district dominated by financial institutions, keeps it off the tourist route; the museum's architecture is a haiku of discretion. The layered, balconied structure (designed with one eye on earthquake vulnerability) seems to emerge almost incidentally from the surrounding planting and then, at the next turn, disappears again.
The Gulbenkian Foundation purchased the old royal park and set up a competition for a new complex of buildings, to include its headquarters, in 1959- Their architectural consultant was Leslie Martin. The museum that opened in 1969 was designed by several Portuguese practices, including landscape architects; the confident handling of the horizontally stratified concrete, and the interplay between exterior and interior, recalls the modernist architecture in Cambridge with which Martin was closely associated, once he was installed as Professor there in 1956.
Lisbon is rich in leafy avenues, pocket...
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