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American Society of Landscape Architects


January 2006 Issue

Scaling down the Pampas
Argentine landscape architects shape two estancias devoted to the sport of polo.

By Jimena Martignoni

Argentine landscape architects shape two estancias devoted to the sport of polo.
Facundo de Zuviria

The most striking aspect of the vast Argentine plains known as the pampas was best described by Charles Darwin in his journal of the 1833 voyage of the Beagle:

For many leagues north and south...the country is really level. Scarcely anything which travelers have written about its extreme flatness can be considered as exaggeration.... At sea, a personís eye being six feet above the surface of the water, his horizon is two miles and four-fifths distant. In like manner, the more level the plain, the more nearly does the horizon approach within these narrow limits; and this, in my opinion, entirely destroys that grandeur which one would have imagined that a vast level plain would have possessed.

Near-perfect horizontality stretching for miles in all directions is arguably this landscapeís most compelling attribute, as well as its most stringent constraint: When designing a project enclosed by the Argentine pampas, a landscape architect has to find balance between overarching vastness and human-scaled space; between the far-off horizon and the immediate and tangible elements of design; and between the intriguing monotony of the plants, topography, and colors and a more inviting layout that incorporates varied colors, shapes, seasonal changes, and other design elements.

This is what two Buenos Aires landscape architects, Ines Stewart and Cecilia Murray, had to achieve when working on the landscapes of two different estancias on the pampas. Estancias, multiroom houses with large loggias that face out onto extensive agricultural fields, were built by the first families that lived outside the city. During the second half of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, the first residents of Buenos Aires were still threatened by attacks from local aborigines, prompting them to build small forts near rivers for strategic defense. It was around these sites that the estancias were erected so the families could band with nearby settlements.

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