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Revealed Resilience: An Extension of Roberto Burle Marx's Parque del Este
Sarah Weidner, Student ASLA
The University of Pennsylvania
Advisors: Anita Berrizbetia, ASLA


This project considers the development of a new park on the 42.6 acre parcel of land to the immediate east of Roberto Burle Marx’s Parque del Este in the urban center of Caracas, Venezuela. The new park’s design is launched by two ecological concepts that emerge from the distinctive ways Burle Marx used plant material in Parque del Este:

  1. Plant material is used to display different ecological regions in Venezuela as a measure of adaptive resilience. This notion of adaptive resilience is more specifically expressed as one finds the same plant growing in a variety of microclimatic conditions.
  2. Plant material outside of this ecological framework is introduced as a gradient mediator of texture and color between these displays.

This project initially adopts the concept of gradient and applies it to an urban scale as it serves as a 1- formal, 2- programmatic, 3- hydrologic, 4- spatial and 5-ecologic mediator between Parque del Este and the changing fabric of the surrounding city. Nested within this larger framework are more intricate gradients of sub surface engagement and plant management that are tied to the notion of resilience.

Gradients in combination with revealed resilience offer potential for the new park, as an eastern corner and extention of Parque del Este, to accept cultural meaning for contemporary Venezuela. They also offer hopeful metaphors for a people whose history has been and will continue to be resilient.

Roberto Burle Marx’s Parque del Este emerged in Caracas at a time of initial Venezuelan democratization, immediately before the oil boom and a period of immense wealth. Its bold and innovative display of plant material, curvilinear formal language, and cultural context cumulatively caused Parque del Este to serve not only as a park, but also as a symbol of the Venezuela’s modern identity.

Today the park is used by thousands on a weekly basis and powerfully serves to equalize visitors from a population marked by a disparity of wealth. The excessive use of the park, while socially wonderful, has rendered the park’s physical condition as old and worn. The absence of a maintenance strategy has meant the death, without replacement, of many plant species within the park’s ecological collections. On the northern and western sides of proposed park two major lines of vehicular transportation sever the site from two changing middle and working class neighborhoods marked by recreation centers, museums, and proposals for new plazas and infrastructure re-orderings. The land on which the proposed park sits will pass into government hands within the next 5-15 years. Its significant context demands that its development is considered carefully. This project offers a programmatic solution of plaza-park-nursery hybrid to address the pragmatic needs of the existing Parque del Este as well as those of the surrounding urban neighborhood.

An initial formal strategy for intervention compresses and attenuates the formal language of Roberto Burle Marx’s curvilinear, circulatory loops to create a contemporary field condition of undulating circulatory and planted linear strips. Within these strips a newly planted, seasonally dynamic, savannah takes advantage of an existing wet site and makes a bold new addition to the ecological displays of the existing Parque del Este.

A new eastern corner and extension of the park embraces the need for constant urban engagement and maintenance. New connections and a new programmatic gradient are created between an urban plaza to a nursery to an existing lushly planted park. An associated urban strategy calls for an extension of this gradient out from the plaza to a recreational community center to newly activated neighborhoods.

A hydrologic gradient begins with Caracas: a city whose natural water sources are channelized and hidden by massive infrastructure. The gradient continues with a park edge of dry xerophytic nursery, to a habitually watered and misted nursery, to a seasonally wet landscape, and finally to the park’s existing interior of aquatic garden and lushly planted forest. Spatial gradients are created by the densification and loosening of tree drifts that overlap and mediate between different topographic areas of the park.

The more intricate gradient of sub-surface engagement is significant in that it is tied to the notion of resilience. From the corner plaza, where a paved surface peels from the ground to become an entry building, to nursery paths where surfaces peel to become greenhouses, to nursery paths that push into the ground to reveal plant root conditions (containerized or not), to deep subsurface cuts in the seasonally dynamic savannah areas, park visitors are able to engage with the ecological dynamism of plant growth, roots, and ground, which they commonly own.

Resilience is also revealed in gradients of plant management. From the strictly maintained container nursery, which feeds new plants to the existing worn park, to the new display of savannah plants and grasses that are resilient as they shift from dry to lush conditions; ecological processes serve as hopeful metaphors. The design itself can also serve as a strategy of resilience in that it can shrink or expand botanically or programmatically and still retain its basic structural characteristics.


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