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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

January 2006 Issue

Greenhouse Effect
A landscape renovation at the Panama Canal opens windows into the landscape.

By Susan Hines

Greenhouse Effect
Lanny Provo

“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 residential remodeling.

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.

Project Credits

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: Plant
Creations, Miami (Stan Matthews, project manager).
Lighting: PCL Landscape Lighting, Hollywood, Florida (Perry Kuhn, consultant).

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