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
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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