Palácio da Alvorada, Brazil's Palace of the Dawn – and its garden design

The home of the Brazil’s President was designed by Oscar Niemeyer and opened in 1958. Its name comes from Juscelino Kubitschek, who asked ‘What is Brasília, if not the dawn of a new day for Brazil?’ The design is wonderful. But is it perfect? ‘No’. The space looks sterile, the planting is deeply unimaginative and it is difficult to think of anything one might do with the space – except gaze at it.

Image courtesy Francisco Domingos

27 thoughts on “Palácio da Alvorada, Brazil's Palace of the Dawn – and its garden design

  1. Tom Turner Post author

    Good idea but even the diplomats would prefer a good connection with the indoor space, a terrace for the tables which hold their champagne and canapes – and a firm dry surface for their costly footwear. These helpful girls demonstrate the problem, for those of you who have not walked on grass in stilettos

  2. Christine

    I thank the girls for their advice and offer the consolation that this season’s wedges are less of a difficulty on grass. [ ] Surely also an astute shoe designer has this problem in his or her sights and has designed a range special occasion shoes which would also suit Polo events and Ascot.

    The solution to the terrace could be solved innovatively also, in an appropriate material for the setting. [ ] Perhaps creating a mid-level connecting the covered colonade with the lawn would assist.

    It is more difficult to solve the indoor/outdoor connection without a greater understanding of the plan of the Palace of the Dawn.

  3. Tom Turner Post author

    Our understanding of the character of the space leads to the conclusion that it could be renamed as the Palace of Dusk. Imagining politicians and diplomats drinking toasts to the conversion of the rainforest to cattle ranches and soya fields, I suggest populating the lawn with plastic cows and plastic grass. The surrounding planting could be real soy, since few would find them beautiful

  4. Christine

    I found this description of the palace:
    “It is three stories, and covers quite a lot of ground. It has a library, four suites, two dining rooms, a swimming pool and rooms for meeting and entertaining foreign dignitaries.”

    So the suggestion for the event seems to be apt, although hopefully the politicians and diplomats would not be drinking toasts to the conversion of rainforest to cattle ranches and soyafields but rather discussing how to strategically engage with the UN-REDD programme. [ ]

    Perhaps diplomats from wealthy developed countries could make cow pledges (signed on the plastic cows on the plastic lawn) to buy REDD carbon credits?

  5. Tom Turner Post author

    “Palácio” suggests an indoor-aristocratic lifestyle to me, as does the description of the internal accommodation. The Palace has a wonderful position in Brasilia with a Baroque approach drive the Bourbons would have appreciated. My guess is that a limo takes them to the Pequena Lagoa Artificial do Palácio da Alvorada for the necessary cocktail events so they could line the route with REDD-pledged plastic cows in the manner of the sphinx avenue at Luxor. The web has many images of the Palace and with a football pitch in the grounds we should not be surprised that Brazil has won the World Cup more often than any other nation. An old postcard indicates that architectural considerations (+ a relationship with the natural landscape) were uppermost at the outset. I have read that modernist architects, in Britain, considered gardens a bourgeois accessory to be avoided, because ‘ornament is crime’ and wonder if something of this attitude was present in Brazil, despite Burle Marx.

  6. Christine

    Despite being misdescribed as male Rosa Kliass in an important Brazilian Modernist Landscape Architect. [ ]

    A biographical account:

    Rosa Grena Kliass received a degree in architecture from the University of São Paulo in 1955. Since the 1960’s, she has practiced landscape architecture, planning, and urban design, establishing her own firm in 1970. She was Director of Planning for the municipality of São Paulo (1983‐ 1986); a founder and president of the Brazilian Association of Landscape Architects (ABAP); and has taught landscape architecture and urban design at Mackenzie University, São Paulo (1974‐1977), and Catholic University of Paraná, School of Architecture and Urbanism, Curitiba, Paraná (1980‐82). Ms. Kliass has developed one of the most significant landscape architecture practices in Brazil. As an urban and regional planner, she has worked on a master plan for Curitiba (1965); open space plans for Sao Paulo (1968) and Salvador
    (1978); and an environmental quality master plan for São Paulo (1984). Among her most significant design projects are the Landscape Renewal of Paulista Avenue, São Paulo; Abaeté Park, Salvador; the international airports in Brasilia and Belém; the Sculpture Park at the Museum of Modern Art in Salvador; the Praça Júlio Prestes, São Paulo; and the Parque da Juventude, São Paulo. Her work has received numerous awards from the Brazilian Institute of Architects, and is the subject of two books, PARQUES URBANOS DA CIDADE DE SÃO PAULO (Editora Pini, 1993) and ROSA KLIASS: DESENHANDO PAISAGENS, MOLDANDO UMA PROFISSÃO (Editora SENAC, 2006).

    But you are right, her work cannot be characterised as garden design. [ ] and [ ]

    Perhaps this project is closest? [ ]

    It would seem Rosa might approve of my use of giant water lilies?
    [ ]

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Generally, modernism has been as popular with landscape architects as it has been unpopular (until recently) with garden designers – causing a most regrettable split between landscape architecture and garden design. Garden designers often produced the outdoor equivalent of fake Louis Quinze furniture in a modern apartment block. This a trend which Peter Behrens may have started!

  7. Christine

    Maybe it was a blessing in disguise, saving much garden heritage while swathes of built heritage have regrettably made way for sometimes only very passable examples of modern design.

    Perhaps America was the true birthplace of modern garden design because it was being made new in a new landscape? Also, modernist gardens were said to have emerged with the buildings of Irving Gill. “The intense blue of sky and sea that continues for such long unbroken periods, the amethyst distant mountains, the golden brown of summer fields, the varied green of pepper, eucalyptus and popular trees,” Gill claimed was the ideal setting for his houses.

    In modernist design the house as a pavilion in the garden was said to have replaced the tradition view as the house as shelter “isolated and protected from a harsh and threatening environment”.
    p7-8 Private Landscapes: Modernist Gardens in Southern California.

    Perhaps this sketch by Garrett Eckbo best illustrates what the Americans were trying to achieve with modern garden design? [ ]

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I like the outdoors-indoors cartoons, though the outdoors-indoors version looks much pleasanter and this may be a reflection of an American climate which is often unsuited to outdoor living because of excess heat or cold or humidity.
      America is one of the birthplaces of modern gardens. It started well with Frank Lloyd Wright etc but was set back several decades by the popularity of the Beaux Arts revival and only began to recover when Eckbo, Kiley, Rose etc read Christopher Tunnard’s Gardens in the Modern Landscape in the late 1930s.
      Another aspect of the problem was that functionalist design theory was difficult to relate to gardens when gardens were conceived primarliy as ornaments. The only serious ‘function’ was outdoor living. My guess is that the next phase of garden development awaits a thoughtful treatment of the sustainability roles which gardens can have, should have and used to have before the renaissance converted them into ‘a rich man’s fancy’.

  8. Christine

    Yes. Before modernism in America, as illustrated by the Great Gatsby, gardens had become a place of entertainment.

    They also symbolized the place of re-invention. [ ] It was possibly with the jazz age that modern America was invented. [ ] See the modern Gatsby wedding…[ ].

    I wonder is there a private person or heritage organistaion wanting to save the mansion and gardens at Lands End and the beginnings of American Garden History? [ ]

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      The association with the Jazz Age is interesting and appealing, as is the association between styles of music and styles of garden design in every age. I think, for example one can understand cloisters much better when listening to Gregorian chant and nineteenth century gardens when listening to Berlioz.

  9. Christine

    Wondering where Jenny Rose Carey would position the Gatsby property at Lands End within the chronology of American garden history? [ ]

    Perhaps the private entertainments of the wealthy, found their counterpoint in the summer beer gardens and picnic groves of the Jazz Age, in particular Rainbo Gardens? [ ] and [ ].

    Hmmm.[ ]

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      As a not-very-musical person I find jazz difficult to absorb – and inter-war American gardens also have this quality. Perhaps they look backward with uncertainty while also looking forward with uncertainty. It would be an interesting experiment to play different styles of music in a design studio and discover how the music affected the design products.

  10. Tian Yuan

    Tom,you are quite right re the thinking of teach garden style with music. At least, there are 3 reason to involve music into garden history. Also, Music has lots of magic functions, for example, Ivan Turgenev, writer of The Song of Triumphant Love, uses music to benefit the concept of black magic in his story. The article states that “his peculiar short story presented music as black magic in a love triangle that offers disturbing resonances with his situation.” Also, Tolstoy utilizes the sonatas of Beethoven to benefit the concept of physical passion in his story. I guess that it could help writers to over come their wirter’s block.'s+Function+in+Literature

  11. Tom Turner Post author

    Gardens have a rational aspect but they also have a non-rational aspect, which includes emotional and spiritual qualities – and I think it is these aspects which have parallels with music.
    Yuan, is it possible to draw parallels between the history of Chinese music and the history of Chinese garden design? (My knowledge of the history of Chinese music could be written on the head of a pin.)

  12. Christine

    Because America was so influenced by the garden styles of the UK it is interesting to see if it is possible to pinpoint within history when America started to evolve its own aesthetic and its own distinct sense of being ‘American’.

    The Lands End b&w photograph shows a formal American house and garden in the foreground, which is definitely replicating the traditional UK house and garden in style. The Gatsby House, however, is quite different and distinct. It faces out towards the beach and the ocean with the pool and dance floor being the pivotal features of the garden.

    1920s American culture is experiencing something of a revival in the UK in the early twentyfirst century, see [ ] and [ ]. Given this phenomenon, it is interesting to consider the different garden settings mentioned above and the ambience of the Jazz Age Party held on Governor’s Island.
    [ ]

    Cornell has a map of Great Neck, Long Island in 1927 to provide a little context.
    [ ] As does this article on Scott Fitzgerald. [ ]

    Yuan, my only knowledge of Chinese music is that it is very complex. Tom, Walter Burley Griffin considered Landscape Architecture (and Architecture) to be spatial arts with the attributes of frozen music. Music he said, was a time art.

  13. Jerry

    TOM, Please do not be over-modesty! I guess that Yuan would like you to start learning music and Chinese from now on. If you put some links of music in your English garden history book, I believe it will become more interesting!

  14. Christine

    The simile Walter Burley Griffin made was that rhythm was to music what space is to landscape architecture, architecture and planning.

    Not so sure there are very many other eras in landscape and garden design, as the Jazz Age in America, so influenced by music?

    For example Charles Jencks Garden of Cosmic Speculation was influenced rather by philosophy, science and mathematics (and the borrowed landscape of Chinese gardens)!
    [ ]

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Not sure about rhythm. I have heard it said that music is about space. I agree that landscape architecture and planning are about space. But architecture? I know that Sigfried Giedion wrote a book on Space, time and architecture, but I think many architects (especially before the modern era) have been more concerned with solids than voids (with mass than space).

  15. Christine

    Yes. There are many possible concerns possible within the discipline of architecture, for example some architects are more concerned with structure and form. Texture and surface (skin) are some other possibilities.

    However, I was pleased to read about Walter Burley Griffin’s ideas on space in architecture because this is also my fascination. Tschumi, like Giedion has a concern with space and time. A closer reading of Giedion and Tschumi would be necessary to understand whether their concerns with time are similar to my own.

    When I consider time it is not central to architectural design in the way that space is, but rather impacts on the reception of architecture in time, through time and as heritage.

    Time, however, is critical to the project of architecture (and landscape and planning) in the sense of the Zeitgeist.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I have often heard landscape architects remark that a concern with time is a central aspect of their discipline. But I have not often noticed that a concern with time is central feature of landscape designs as shown on plans! As an amateur historian I am fascinated by the way gardens have changed in time but so, of course, have buildings.

  16. Christine

    Landscape and garden design is unique in the sense that plants need time to grow and it is not always affordable to transplant them fully grown. So there is a time aspect inherent in this sense of the mature garden. There is also a seasonality in a garden.

    These aspects are mirrored in architecture to a lesser extent in the notions of 1) setting, 2) location, 3) orientation, 4) passive design and 5) climate sensitivity.

    Time aspects are perhaps more important in urban design where outdoor comfort and the way the exterior relationships of buildings and spaces relate to each other and how people use and move through space has a greater focus.

    The historical aspect is more evident in an experiential sense. [ See Parliament Square and consider how differently it would have been experienced in each era, ie. contemporary uses allow relaxing and sunbaking whereas it is unlikely historical uses would have. An interesting question would be the transition point. When did sunbaking in London Squares first become popular?]

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I suppose one could make a distinction in that change is something which generally happens to the work of architects but which has to be considered from the outset in the work of landscape archtiects and garden designers. Urban designers have to plan for change but the changes they envisage are generally the fulfillment of their ‘master plans’ [a term I liked when I first heard it but which I now dislike].
      I think the ideas of an air bath and a sun bath came to England from Germany – probably in the 1920s (they originated in the late nineteenth century ideas of the Swiss-German Arnold Rikli).

  17. Christine

    Thankyou. I found this explanation by Arnold Rikli’s of the start of his therapies:

    “Some thirty six years ago, all remedies from the apothecary’s shop failing, I was dying with dysentery, when my life was saved through an advice I found in Dr Munde’s ‘hydrotherapie’. From inclination as well as from gratitude, I resolved upon devoting hence forth my energies to the study and practice of a method that has done so much good to myself and so many others, and which promised to strengthen and harden my naturally weak constitution. With Dr Munde’s excellent practical guide in hand, I gradually tried upon my own body all the different applications of the Watercure, and then commenced to practice upon others as opportunities offered. I soon discovered that the use of cold alone did not answer in every case, and that, with the aged, the feeble and the chlorotic, the alternative use of heat did more service than that of cold water exclusively. Thus, adding the sunbath, the bed steam-bath, the air bath, and similar other applications to Priessnitz’s system, I gradually formed that combined system of Physico-Hydriatic Treatment, which has been practiced for the last twenty seven years, under the favourable influence of a mild sunny climate, the pure mountain air, and with the assistance of several powerful springs of the cleanest and coldest water, on the beautiful little lakes of Veldes, the ‘Pearl of the Julian Alps’.”

    So Parliament Square is currently used by the public for (amongst other activities) political protest, as a thoroughfare, natural therapies, health tourism and photography!

    Urban planners definitely have a difficult task in predicting the future. Do you think including a course in Futurology in their studies would assist with better designs?
    [ ]

  18. Tom Turner Post author

    Sorry, I have no confidence in Futurology. Instead, the managers of urban public open space should concentrate on RESPONSIVENESS. They should observe what people do and they should ask people what they would like to do. Then they should respons accordingly.


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