A landscape renovation at the Panama Canal opens windows into the landscape.
By Susan Hines
“What motivates me is excellence. I want to do the best I can do,” says Raymond
Jungles, ASLA. “That’s what brings the clients to me. They can afford anything
they want, and they want to be around quality.”
With its simple geometries, broad swaths of colored walls, and extensive use
of water and lush plantings, Island Modern, the Jungles design on Key West,
Florida, that captured the 2005 ASLA Residential Design Award of Honor, is
typical of the work the landscape architect favors. Jungles admits his modern
style is not one everyone appreciates or can afford. “I share an aesthetic
with about one percent of the population.”
Fortunately for him, he says, “there are like-minded people out there who really
appreciate garden design.” Jungles’s clients—virtually all of them high-end
residential—learn about this landscape architect exclusively through design
publications, from satisfied clients, and from the architects and interior
designers with whom he frequently collaborates.
He moved his multidisciplinary practice, Raymond Jungles, Inc., from Key West
to Miami nearly three years ago, after realizing that relocating to a major
metropolitan area would expand his opportunities for work. “My fee structure
is too high for Key West,” he says. “A small project is as large a responsibility
as a big project, yet it brings a much reduced fee.” Although his studio now
employs 10 to 12 people and includes both landscape architects and architects,
the firm is not volume oriented. It generally has 10 to 15 projects at various
stages of completion on the boards.
“I prefer someone to hire me who wants something that I like to do. If someone
wants a clipped hedge in the Palm Beach style, I’m not going to do that. I
can appreciate it, but it’s not what I love.”
Jungles’s design approach is influenced and inspired by the work of Mexican
architect/landscape architect Luis Barragán and Brazilian landscape architect
Roberto Burle Marx. Burle Marx eventually became both friend and mentor to
the young Jungles. “I knew as soon as I saw his work that landscape architecture
was an art form and that I was going to stay with it,” he remembers. As a
student, Jungles admired Burle Marx from afar, and after he received his landscape
architecture degree in 1981, he became a regular visitor to Burle Marx’s home
in Brazil and a representative of his paintings and lithographs in the United
States. “I took my commissions and invested in his art,” Jungles says. As
a result he owns a significant collection of Burle Marx paintings, works he
surrounds himself with to this day.
Burle Marx also encouraged Jungles to see common plants in new ways. “Once
I said of Purple Queen (Tradescantia pallida), ‘I hate that plant,”
Jungles says. “And Roberto said, ‘Don’t ever say you hate a plant because
someday it may be the perfect plant for one of your projects.’ And sure enough,
I ended up using it in a large-scale space at the Fairchild Tropical Botanical
garden. I needed it.”
Jungles attributes the walls that so frequently rise in his gardens to Barragán’s
influence. Like the master, he uses walls to manipulate light and space. An
added bonus: These structures also put Jungles firmly in control of the landscape
by helping maintain the integrity of the design over time. Built structures
withstand hurricanes or a bill of sale better than plants.
“I hate to leave too much to new owners,” he says. “You always want to be careful
of leaving areas that are not designed, not controlled.”
Located outside the Key West historic district on an undistinguished street
of rambler-style houses, the 10,000-square-foot corner property that became
the Island Modern project was “just a typical suburban house with a circular
drive and a hot tub,” Jungles says. “There was no real sense of garden and
no integration with the outside.”
Due to strict building regulations in this flood-prone neighborhood, no more
than 50 percent of the value of the house could be spent on renovations without
demolishing the entire structure and rebuilding a residence in compliance
with current code. The home owner, who had purchased the place as her vacation
retreat, rejected the idea of a teardown.
No such monetary restrictions applied to landscape construction, and with the
cooperation of the client and the architect, Jungles became the driving force
on the project. “We decided we wouldn’t look at the building; instead, we
would deflect attention toward the landscape and spend money articulating
the special qualities of the property and orienting [the house] to the garden.”
As opposed to designing a garden around the existing residence, the landscape
architect focused on the house and landscape simultaneously. Unlike the bloated
high-end residences that are ubiquitous now, in this case the square footage
was actually slightly reduced to accommodate expanded outdoor areas.
“Before I do a garden, I have to understand what the outdoor space relates
to,” Jungles says. “In this case, there was nothing going on in the landscape,
and I was given the freedom to work on the place at a conceptual level. We
carved the space from the inside out and outside in at the same time.”
Jungles worked closely with the architect to remap the floor plan of the house
and alter the orientation of the residence from the west side to the east
side. The new entrance Jungles designed, with its carport and a pergola of
strong rectilinear lines, sets the modern, streamlined tone of the project.
Visitors move underneath the vine-covered pergola and over stone pads to reach
an imposing slotted aluminum gate that pivots on a single post. Although the
surfaces were originally to be executed in concrete, the owner decided to
splurge by extending the stone flooring used inside the house to the outside,
apparently won over by the enhanced integration of interior/exterior space.
Some say Jungles’s designs are formulaic: Similar walls and similar pools
appear in the projects highlighted on his web site. Jungles agrees that these
projects share an aesthetic approach but points out that the images online
represent his favorite landscapes—not his complete range of work. Having a
signature style has advantages. Island Modern is a case in point; the client
admired the look and sound of a spillway that Jungles had created for himself
at his Key West studio. At her request, he repeated that design in Island
Modern’s water garden. A few feet into the pool, flowing water emerges from
a narrow rectangular slot in a chartreuse wall.
This wall is one of several Jungles created throughout the property as part
of his strategy of diverting attention away from the ho-hum house. “My idea
was to create strong garden architecture so you wouldn’t notice the house,”
he says. Despite the small lot, the extensive sequence of freestanding walls
structures the experience of the space from both inside and out. And because
the walls don’t touch the house, they were not tallied in the cost of the
Extensive floor to ceiling glazing replaced the conventional windows with their
1960s aluminum awnings. When the pocket sliding-glass doors are open, they
make the residence seem more like a pavilion than a house. Of course, integrating
indoors and out via windows is hardly new, but Island Modern takes the technique
a bit farther by inserting glass-lined capsules of planted space into the
home itself, stealing space from the interior and returning it to nature.
One of these nooks is in the master bedroom area and encompasses the shower
stall; from the inside, it seems like a giant terrarium.
The landscape architect pressed his client to include color when she was leaning
toward an all-white scheme. Jungles uses color again and again in his work
because he lives in “a climate where color is not jarring.” He says, “In some
places a big pink wall would be out of place, but I employ it where it makes
sense.” If he practiced somewhere else, Jungles would alter his strategy to
accommodate different light, he says.
Poolside, he aimed to maximize the light in a small area that is essentially
the heart of this vacation home. “In a really tight space—like this one—some
designers might make the pool small,” he points out. “My philosophy is to
make it larger to reflect the light and make everything seem bigger.”
Around the property, a wood fence of marine plywood topped with louvers meets
standard Key West ventilation codes. On the street right-of-way, Jungles gained
permission to plant street trees that serve as a 20-foot-tall buffer, hiding
nearby roofs while allowing the owner to see the sky. To avoid irrigation,
the firm specified native ground covers, and the rest of the plants provide
screening, fragrance, and wildlife habitat. “People can see the carport so
they know where the front door is located, but otherwise I wanted the perimeter
to look like the edge of a Florida Keys hammock,” he says.
While the plant palette is in keeping with Jungles’s previous work, Island
Modern marks a departure for the landscape architect. While it retains Jungles’s
signature walls, pools, and lush plantings, the mosaic tile murals and the
groovy shapes and even some of the intense colors have been stripped away.
What remains is a more purely modern landscape—a reminder that even in Key
West a landscape designed for fun doesn’t have to be funky.
Landscape architect: Raymond Jungles, Inc., Miami (Raymond Jungles, ASLA, principal;
Mauricio Del Valle, project manager).
Architect and structural engineer: Robert Delaune, Key West, Florida.
General contractor: Savoie Construction, Key West, Florida. Landscape contractor:
Creations, Miami (Stan Matthews, project manager).
Lighting: PCL Landscape Lighting, Hollywood, Florida (Perry Kuhn, consultant).
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