Champalimaud Centre

Lisbon, Portugal

This research and diagnostic centre, located in Lisbon, is a state-of-the art facility guided by some of the best scientists in the world today. the site is a truly extraordinary sweep of land, just where the river joins the Atlantic Ocean – the point from which Henry the Navigator, Vasco da Gama and the other great Portuguese pioneers left on their journeys into the unknown.

The 3 units that constitute the project (the largest for the doctors and scientists, the second for theatre, the exhibition hall, the foundation offices etc., and the third is an open-air amphitheatre for the city) have been arranged to create a 125m long pathway leading diagonally across the site, towards the open seas.

This pathway is ramped up (at a gentle slope of 1:20) – so as you ascend, you see only sky ahead of you. At the end of the ramp are two stone monoliths, straight from the quarry, as primordial as Stonehenge. When you reach the highest point, you being to see a large body of water – which seemingly connects (i.e., without visual break) to the ocean beyond. In the center of this water body, just below the surface of the water, is an oval shaped object – made of stainless steel and slightly convex, so the it reflects the blue sky and passing clouds above. It could be anything – the back of a turtle, a tropical island, a treasure chest. It is the mythic adventure they went in search of, 500 years ago – and a perfect metaphor for contemporary Science’s own journey into the unknown.

Speech by Charles Correa

5th October, 2005

  1. What makes me most proud about this project is that it is NOT a museum of modern art. On the contrary, it uses the highest levels of contemporary science and medicine to help people grappling with real problems; cancer, brain damage, going blind. And to house these cutting-edge activities, we tried to create a piece of architecture. architecture as sculpture. Architecture as beauty. Architecture as therapy.
  2. And we also attempted to use NATURE as therapy. The WATER around us. The SKY above us. The healing presence of RAIN FORESTS. All these are therapies for the patients.
  3. Of course, we have a special site. One of astonishing beauty – and great historic Memory. Nobert Schultz has written eloquently about what he calls the GENUS LOCI, the essential meaning of a site – and Architecture’s unique responsibility to express, to release, that meaning. A musician can play the same Chopin concert one evening in Tokyo and the next in Brazil and the third in Paris – with every note exactly the same. But not the architect. For a building is rooted in the soil on which it stands. In the climate, in the technology, in the culture – and the aspirations! – of the society that uses it. This is why the same building cannot be repeated anywhere and everywhere in the world.
  4. And of course what makes this site very special is that it is the place from which five hundred years ago Vasco da Gama and the other great navigators went forth on their voyages of Discovery – a perfect metaphor for the discoveries of contemporary science today. this is why more than 50% of the site has been given back to the city of Lisbon for its citizens to celebrate that history – without in any way compromising the privacy of the medical activities, and vice versa. The site plan is a yin-yang pattern of interlocking spaces.
  5. Lastly, I am proud that this project tries to express the essential nature, the Genus Loci, of this site without resorting to ersatz version of traditional architecture. No, we have used throughout a Contemporary voice to express not only the truth about this site – but also to celebrate a very crucial moment (arguably the DEFINING moment) in the history of this nation.