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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

February 2005 Issue

Restoring a Latin Landmark
The restoration of a garden in Venezuela's largest urban park is a model for other Latin American cities.

By Jimena Martignoni

Restoring a Latin Landmark
Gabriel Reig

In 1958 Brazilian artist and landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx outlined his vision for Parque del Este, a 190-acre public park on the eastern side of downtown Caracas, Venezuela’s capital city. Two landscape architects, Fernando Tabora and John Stoddart, assisted by a team of architects and botanists, translated Burle Marx’s loose, artistic drawings into an intricate modernist landscape of organic landforms and water features, curving paths, and splendid views.

Burle Marx, who was already known for his appreciation of Latin American flora, incorporated regional plants to express the exuberant richness of the Venezuelan landscape. Built at a time when Venezuela was emerging into democracy, Parque del Este broke with the centuries-old imitation of European formal design and made a proud statement of cultural independence. When the landscape team finished the park in 1963, it had created an icon—a new model for Venezuela’s urban landscapes.

Over time, the park saw more use than maintenance, as economic instability became, paradoxically, the most stable situation throughout the country. Today many water features are not working, some pools are empty, the lakes are fenced, and some groups of tropical plants have died and have not been replaced, leaving unsightly bare spots throughout the park.

In particular, el Jardín Xerofítico (Xerophytic Garden), a showcase of native, drought-tolerant flora in the park’s northwestern corner, showed the ravages of overuse and neglect. Here again, some plants died and were not replaced, opening passages that tempted visitors to take shortcuts off the paths, causing soil erosion. Other plants proliferated beyond their boundaries, invading walkways and obliterating the original design.

Today Parque del Este is in the midst of a sweeping revitalization project, which began with the renovation of el Jardín Xerofítico in 2004. Guided by the original landscape architects, the preservation team is piloting methods that may become as influential in Latin America as the original park design.

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