ESTOI PALACE AND GARDENS Redeveloping a Monumental Complex Shyam Khandekar describes how ownership management is as important as design when it comes to successful redevelopment of historic landscapes and buildings

The Historic Context

The Estoi Palace, located in Algarve, about 10 kms to the north of the city of Faro, was built originally in the late 18th century and was inspired by Baroque design. The Palace (Palacio in Portuguese) of Estoi was originally built by Fransisco Jose Carvalhal e Vasconcelos, a member of the Royal Court, who made the Palace of Estoi his residence. It was later acquired in 1893 by the future Viscount of Estoi, Fransisco Jose da Silva, who ordered its restoration. After the death of the Viscount of Estoi, the Palacio was kept within the family till in 1987 it was sold to the government.

In the original design, the Palacio building stood at the highest point in the north on a sloping site and the vast gardens were arranged in stepped terraces to its south and organised along radiating lines with the Palacio standing at the focal point of the radiating lines. The main Palacio building was part of an ensemble of noble halls, the chapel, the bell tower and the lateral wings. The Palacio and its garden complex were well integrated into the original topography, showing excellent design control and accuracy and a particular sense of scale.

Until 2007, before the Rhynchophorus plague, the gardens had a remarkable collection of Phoenix palm trees, most of them over a hundred years old, which gave a special charm to the complex.

The complex of the buildings and its gardens were together classified as a National Heritage Building in 1977.
Looking for Suitable Redevelopment and Reuse In the last decades of the 20th century, the Palacio had been abandoned and was bought by the central government of Portugal to possibly serve as the second residence of the President of Portugal. However, around the turn of the century, this idea was given up and the ownership of the property came to rest with the Municipality of Faro of which the town of Estoi is a part of.

After struggling to find an adequate reuse for the complex for many years, the local government was finally able to sell part of the property to a tourism company via a tender procedure. This tourism company had won a contest to manage a series of inns (or pousadas i.e. heritage hotels), which till then belonged to a state-owned company. However, this was not the case for the property at Estoi, which contained the main Palacio and its attached buildings and the gardens on higher grounds immediately abutting the old Palacio complex. The tourism company was interested in developing a heritage hotel on that part of the site but was not interested in owning and managing the lower part of the gardens. So these were retained by the Municipality of Faro in public ownership and are now in use as public gardens.

This decision to split the ownership of the gardens of the Palacio Estoi into two has not been in the interest of keeping the integrity of the landscape and the Palacio complex, as was historically the case.

This is a matter of major concern on two fronts. Firstly, the central axis of approach to the Palacio from the south-west through the lower grounds of the orchards has now become functionally irrelevant since the hotel, which occupies the old Palacio building, is now approached from an inconspicuous little street from the north-east, whereby none of the axiality of the original design of the Palacio in its gardens is visible. Also, the main entrance of the new hotel does little to announce the grandness of the complex.

Secondly, while the original landscape plan with its terraces and canals depended on an ingenuous system of water distribution that came from the higher northern part of the site to the lower southern terraces, the decision to split the ownership in two has made this ineffective. In a region like Algarve, where water is in short supply, this has meant acute problems for the southern part. However, in spite of these limitations, it needs to be emphasised that the decision to let the old monumental complex be redeveloped into a tourist attraction including a hotel and public gardens has resulted in the entire complex being restored and given a new lease of life.
The Design Challenge

The big challenge faced by the design team was to find an effective space for new rooms for

Site plan and sections of the Palacio and its gardens. The new wing of the hotel rooms is at the top left side of the site plan drawing

the hotel, its modern amenities like swimming pool and a car park, since the old ensemble of buildings of the Palacio were not large enough to accommodate these.

Additionally, the mission the design team embarked on was to:

A. Rehabilitate the Palacio gardens as far as possible. B. Integrate the landscaped gardens and the old and the new buildings of the future. C. Make the lower part of the terraced gardens available for general use of the public.

Probably the most critical design decision entailed the placement of the new wing for hotel rooms. The design of the complex by the team of Landscape Architects Joao Ceregeiro and Architect Goncalo Byrne makes intelligent use of the contours of the terrain by placing three floors of new hotel rooms in the west wing in such a way that they become part of the terraced landscape of the entire complex. The stark and well-detailed modern architecture of the new hotel wings provides beautiful rooms with views of the south over the lower levels of landscape. And the architecture of the hotel wing is cleverly designed not to attract unnecessary visual attention, but simply functions as a neutral backdrop against which the ornate red historic buildings of the Palacio Estoi come to greater visual expression.

The west wing of the hotel rooms is also designed in such a way that moving through its corridor one gets beautiful views of the tower of the Palacio in the distance. The new design clearly pays its respect to the old, accepting the centrality of the old Palacio. The landscape design has further helped the new wing of hotel rooms to be part of the terraced landscape of the complex.

The whole process of redevelopment, including sale and resale of the property, finding a suitable new long-term use for the future, redesigning the buildings and the landscape and restoration and construction on the site has taken nearly 20 years. But the effort to save and reuse the Palacio and its Gardens has been, without any doubt, worth it