Fractals of Nature
The renovated Botanical Gardens of Medellín meld with the
city and play with natural forms.
By Jimena Martignoni
Photography by Carlos Tobón
In August, the month of la
Feria de las Flores—the Flower Fair—in Medellín, Colombia, the city’s
botanical gardens turn into a spectacular floral gallery. People from all parts
of the city stroll through the exotic display, and others take in the bonanza
of color, form, and scent from the paths skirting the gardens’ screen fence.
This wasn’t always the case. Until 2005, a fortresslike
concrete wall, more than 10 feet high and covered with graffiti, closed off the
gardens’ sights and aromas from the surrounding neighborhood, known for poverty
and violence. But in that year, the city knocked down the unsightly barrier—an
event locally known as “the fall of the wall”—and replaced it with a nearly
transparent screen fence that allows passersby to share the sights and smells
of the gardens. As part of the same project, the city, together with the
botanical gardens’ owners, also renovated the orquideario or orchid garden and added new public open space around
the botanical gardens’ core.
Lorenzo Castro, an architect from Bogotá whose urban park
projects include the successful Water Park in Bucaramanga (see “Celebration of
Water,” Landscape Architecture, May
2007), and Ana Elvira Vélez, a local architect involved in the renaissance of
Medellín’s vibrant urban scene, designed the fence. The design introduces a
bold graphic element, a repeating series of slanting steel beams between
vertical posts framing wire-mesh panels. Painted black, the fence is
constructed in units that rise and fall with the undulating surface of the
land. Though it was completed after the orchid display, this element, because
of its symbolic value, is seen as the first real statement of the site’s
integration with the city.
The decisions to open the gardens to public view and
redesign the aging orchid display were part of the city’s ambitious program of
social and political change for the new millennium. The botanical gardens are
among several strategic landscape projects intended to rehabilitate Medellín’s
long-neglected north side: Parque de los Deseos (see “A Desire for Change,” Landscape Architecture, April 2007), a
new public gathering space for cultural and recreational activities; Parque
Norte, a more bucolic and classic park; and Explora, a cultural complex that
integrates museums and open spaces.
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